Topic: Provisions for Persons with Disabilities - Copyright Amendment Bill 2012

Under the amendments, sections 51(1)(zb) and 31B carve out exceptions and limitations for persons with disabilities. Earlier s.52(1)(zb) dealt only with formats that were “special designed only for the use of persons suffering from visual, aural, or other disabilities”.

Thanks to a campaign mounted by disability rights groups and public interest groups, it now covers “any accessible format”.

Section 52(1)(zb) allows any person to facilitate access by persons with disabilities to copyrighted works without any payment of compensation to the copyright holder, and any organization working the benefit of persons with disabilities to do so as long as it is done on a non-profit basis and with reasonable steps being taken to prevent entry of reproductions of the copyrighted work into the mainstream.

Even for-profit businesses are allowed to do so if they obtain a compulsory licence on a work-by-work basis, and pay the royalties fixed by the Copyright Board. The onerousness of this provision puts its utility into question, and this won’t disappear unless the expression “work” in s.31B is read to include a class of works.

Given that the Delhi High Court has — wrongly and per incuriam, since it did not refer to s.14(a)(ii) as it was amended in 1994 — held parallel importation to be barred by the Copyright Act, it was important for Parliament to clarify that the Copyright Act in fact follows international exhaustion. Without this, even if any person can facilitate access for persons with disabilities to copyrighted works, those works are restricted to those that are circulated in India. Given that not many books are converted into accessible formats in India (not to mention the costs of doing so), and given the much larger budgets for book conversion in the developed world, this is truly restrictive.