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Disability sector opposes proposed amendments to Copyright Act, 1957

D.N.I.S. News Network, India: The proposed amendments to the Copyright Act, 1957 that were tabled in the Rajya Sabha on April 15 have not gone down too well with the disability sector. The copyright exception under the proposed amendments is available only for “specially designed” formats viz. Braille and sign language and thus excludes many other print disabled persons like those affected by dyslexia, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and low vision.

Most of the time, these print impaired persons are not familiar with Braille and are dependent on other alternate formats like audio, e-texts, large print, etc for accessing books and reading materials. The proposed copyright exception therefore does not benefit them but rather leaves them out. Educational institutes, N.G.O.s and those working for print disabled people are also another group that will be adversely affected. A licensing system is being proposed to the Copyright Act that takes away the rights of such bodies from converting material into other formats.

Dr. Sam Taraporevala, Director, Xavier’s Research Centre for the Visually Challenged (X.R.C.V.C.) said, “There are serious shortcomings in the proposed amendments. The copyright exception needs to be format neutral and not place an additional burden on genuine persons and organizations in creating accessible material. We need to focus on the end user rather than the format.” According to Kanchan Pamnani, advocate, solicitor and end user, “The proposed provision is exclusionist and is against the tenets of U.N.C.R.P.D., the Constitution and the Disability Act.”

It may be mentioned that leaders of the disability sector had lobbied very hard to ensure that the copyright exception addressed the needs of the print disabled community in the proposed Bill. A delegation under the National Access Alliance had even met Kapil Sibal, Minister for Human Resource Development in November 2009. They were assured that their concerns would be looked into. Law Minister, Veerapa Moily and Mani Shankar Aiyer had also written to Sibal but to no avail. Even a request by the disability sector to set up a sub-committee like the one set up for the film industry went unheeded! Sibal went ahead with the proposed Amendment and tabled it in the Rajya Sabha on April 15.

In India, only a meager 0.5 percent of all reading material is available in accessible formats. It is therefore very important that when the amendments are carried out, they must address the problems of the print impaired community and not aggravate them.