Copyright Office in India had proposed several amendments to the current act some time in 2006. Subsequently, the document which indicated the proposed amendments which was available on the website of the Copyright Office has been removed. (Copy available here)

Now the report in Times of India today (26th Nov 2009) indicates that the amendments are being re-worked by the HRD Ministry in a “hush hush” manner. The speculation is that the amendments are being driven by the Music Industry which is trying to use the Copyright Act to consolidate its financial position.

According to the TOI report, the Indian Broadcasting Association has represented to the Government that the music companies lead by the Copyright Society- Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) is demanding exorbitant charges in the range of Rs 75000 to 1 lakh for clippings of 1 to 2 minutes from broadcasters.

Recently, there were also reports that in Delhi, PPL started demanding huge sums of  money from event companies managing  birthday parties and marriage parties in which copyrighted songs were being used. They had even approached Police for suomotu action. There is an apprehension that PPL may finally end up sending their own agents  to parties to enquire.

I would like the public to take notice of these developments and understand that the issue of enforcement of copyright on music is not only an issue of concern to the Indian Broadcasting Association, but to every individual.

I would like consumers in India to remember that in USA, the industry claimed US $ 80000/- per song from a lady who had downloaded digital music files from the web in violation of copyright license. Indian music consumers should recognize that such a development can happen in India also.

If PPL starts taking law into their own hands and their reps start calling on birthday parties and marriage parties, the life at parties can turn miserable. It is also possible that anti social elements in the society may take advantage and start calling on individuals in the name of PPL and start harassing people who may be listening to music through their i-pods or mp3 players. The undersigned wants to warn music lovers in India to be prepared for being hauled up by PPL or its agents at their homes or in the streets at any time of the day with demands of “Copyright License”. Even if you don’t carry your driving license, you should not perhaps forget to carry your “Copyright License” for every song stored when you move out with your mp3 player.

At the same time, when you buy a music CD,  remember that the license only entitles you to listen to the music if you are the person named in the bill. If you lend your CD to a friend, or play your music loud enough to be heard by others, you may be running the risk of being held liable.

I have several years back urged Music Companies to print boldly on the CD packs words to the effect..”Buying of this CD entitles only the buyer to listen to the music and transfer of content in any form to others through lending, playing aloud or copying is considered an offence under the Indian Copyright Act and the offender is liable to be prosecuted”. However, PPL does not seem to be interested in such disclosure or educating the consumers and is more interested in trapping them into committing an offence so that they can be charged.  On the otherhand, they seem to be arrogant enough to even try to gag any public opinion that may hurt their interests.

Today PPL may be moving only against the broadcasters or event managers or DJs (Disk Jockeys). But the day is not far off when they start acting against individuals. I would therefore request all individuals to ensure that they don’t buy music CDs protected under the PPL contracts if they have any prospect of using it except on their personal disk players. If they have any intention of sharing the CDs with their friends and relatives, there is a risk of action against them.

If PPL does not want to be seen as a tyrant, they need to take the initiative and ensure that they print boldly on every CD sold that “Use of  CD  for any non commercial purpose shall not be construed as a violation of Copyright”.

Now that Mr Kapil Sibal is considering amendments to Copyright Act, it is necessary that the “Fair Use” section of the act must contain a clause to the effect that-

“Non Commercial Personal use of copyrighted music  in private parties, in homes and making copies to personal music hold devices shall be considered  as Fair use under section 52 of the Act”. 

The “Fair Use” provision is part of the right of the society to make use of a work which  is otherwise protected by copyright  It is the part of “Consumer’s Right” and needs to be protected. The developments in the Digital Rights Management field is a huge threat to the “Fair Use” concept and I urge the Government not to succumb to the pressures from the vested business interests in diluting the “Fair Use” principle.

We know that today Copyright mainly protects the intermediaries in the business of publishing and very few of the “Authors” or “Composers” get the benefit. One of the other changes required  during the amendments is to ensure that “Authors”, “Composers” and contributors to the development of a final copyright product should be assured of a continuing revenue share and to this extent, the “One time Royalty” for  assignment should be discouraged. The copyright contracts are mostly entered into between the powerful publisher on the one hand and the weak author on the other hand and the State has to frame laws that are able to protect the under privileged author from being exploited. A suitable mechanism for this has to be built within the Copyright Act. My suggestion is that all “one time royalty contracts” should be registered with a body of consumers designated for the purpose and should be subject to a review mechanism at the instance of the author.

Yet another change required in the Copyright Act in the digital era is to reduce the term of copyright protection in digital works to not more than 5 years since the time is good enough for reasoable exploitatation by the copyright holder.

I request the Government of India not to rush with the amendments in a hush-hush manner and  start a consultation process with the consumer’s representatives so that the amendments create a law which is fair to the society in general.