The Telegraph
Friday , January 17 , 2014
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The recent changes to the copyright law in India will strengthen intellectual property rights in just about everything — writings in the arts and sciences as well in the audio-visuals in music, film titles, lyrics and in any creative field where copyright rules apply. With very few exceptions, anything one writes or creates will be protected under copyright law for one’s lifetime, and then for 50 years after one’s death.

Even though copyright protects “all original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible form of expression”, ideas, titles and facts cannot be copyrighted. Nor is there copyright infringement if multiple copies of a work are reproduced for non-commercial purposes. This concession had to be allowed because it is impossible to police every reproduction when almost all offices, schools and colleges, and even the street corner PCOs, have acquired the technology to reproduce both text and sound.

Now, with new technology for reproduction and communication — the internet — and the information highways which have no clear ownership and are impossible to police, does tinkering around with finer points of law really help authors of ‘original works of authorship’? If the digital world makes copying easier, and the copies are faithful to the original, do the legal restrictions help to restore a sense of order in what would otherwise become a free-for-all market?

Authors who are the creators of any work need to be protected against the sharks in the market. Of the three creators of a published work — the author, the publisher, and the distributor/bookshop — it is the author who matters the most, because without his/her work, it is not possible to take the next step. The basic question is: do the amendments in the copyright law protect the author from pirates who can easily reproduce multiple copies of the author’s work without paying a dime of compensation to him/her?

In this game, it is the distributor who calls the final shots, because without distribution, pirated editions simply cannot take off. The publication of pirated editions is a well-planned, clandestine operation where the publisher works closely with the printer and the distributor in small towns that fall outside the ambit of the police’s radar. Over the years, publishers have identified the pirates and their modus operandi, and there are no secrets about their identities and their distribution channels. Also, it is very easy to identify pirated editions from the original because they are shoddily produced,among several other tell-tale signs.

But identifying the pirate publisher and the main distributor among the usual suspects is just half the problem; the real job is to seize the pirated stocks and prevent the publisher from indulging in the malpractice again. This is easier said than done, because pirates operate from small town presses and the distribution channels are spread among a maze of general grocery stores that handle everything from daily needs to books and stationery. Above all, rounding up the suspects requires police cooperation, which has its own problems and isn’t easy in small town India.

But tightening copyright law and making piracy a criminal offence has had a positive impact over the years. Piracy of textbooks and mass market paperbacks is not as rampant as before, and distributors have become far more cautious.