Simplifying Copyright Laws for Beginning Writers

Copyright is not a natural law because it does not exist in nature. It is a right created by humans and for humans. Animals and other living beings have no legal copyright. Most countries have the same set of copyright laws. Exceptions are in interpretation based on local needs. For example, the interpretation of “fair use” differs enormously between the United States, Europe and India. The other important difference in the laws is the provision for basic damages and punitive damages. In India, for example, there is no provision for punitive damages.

An important aspect of India’s Copyright Rules 2013 has many provisions for “fair use” that most ignore. The term forced license was introduced in this set of rules. People with reading disabilities, educational institutions, translators, etc. have derived several benefits from these changes. The key is that they simply need to notify the copyright holders of their intention to use copyrighted material under the various sections permitted by law. They don’t have to pay license fees as long as they don’t use it to promote commercial interests.

Creation and registration of copyright, territorial validity

Copyright is created when an idea is recorded on a physical medium. Additional registrations are generally not necessary. Indian copyright laws contain a provision to register copyright in a central registry. In the eyes of the law, however, there is no difference between an officially registered right and an unregistered right. All copyrights follow the Berne Convention (1886) and all subsequent updates. India being a signatory to various international conventions is granted the same copyright privilege that it grants to rights created in other countries.

There are, however, a set of circumstances where the creator of the idea, when recorded in any medium, is not the primary copyright holder. This case arises when a natural or legal person (such as a company, organization, educational institution, etc.) orders a work of intellectual property under what is generally called a contract of ‘business. In such a contract, the creator of the copyrighted material is paid for the services once the material is delivered to the author of the contract for works. In such a case, the copyright does not belong to the original creator. The legal entity will own the copyright for 60 years from the date the copyrighted material was first published.

Inheritance and transfer of copyright

By its very definition, copyright exists ONLY with the creator (author) of the intellectual property. Such person may assign the copyright to a publisher and receive royalties in return. The right to receive royalties or any other financial benefit can be transferred, like any other property, to any living individual. In copyright, however, there is a limit to when a copyright assignee can receive financial benefits. Under Section 22 of the Copyright Act 1957, the rights of the author and subsequent assignees exist for 60 years after the death of the author.

Copyright Protection

Various legal options are available to the copyright owner, including going to the police to file a complaint. A cease and desist notice is usually the first step in warning an infringer of copyright infringement. The sad truth is that in India and many Asian countries, the process is laborious and time-consuming. With the advent of digital technology, copyright law has become more complicated. A violator, if not physically located in India, is beyond the reach of Indian law. At best, a person could go to court and ask a service provider to block content in India. However, the courts are extremely reluctant to take this step, especially if it is not a matter of national security.

Acquisition of copyright in the works of others

Copyright can be assigned by the original creator and therefore anyone can theoretically acquire a license. However, in most cases, the first assignor (publisher or producer) is reluctant to part with the copyright, especially if it is commercially profitable. If the author is deceased, the assignee or heir may sell or license the copyright. However, the 60-year limit applies from the original date of the author’s death. It is not influenced by subsequent changes to the assignment. Thus, if a person must acquire a copyright, ten years after the death of the author, the duration remaining to run will be fifty years even though the new assignee has just acquired the rights.

(The author is the President of SAGE India)

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Posted: Saturday, April 23, 2022, 8:47 PM IST

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