Indian IP laws are the world’s most consumer friendly

May 6th, 2009 - 4:07 pm ICT by IANS  

By Frederick Noronha
Bangalore, May 6 (IANS) India has been ranked as the country with the world’s most consumer friendly intellectual property (IP) laws since its copyright regulations allow citizens great freedom to access and utilise information for educational and development purposes.

This emerged in a study of 16 countries, including economically advanced ones, undertaken by the Malaysia-based Consumers International, which calls itself the “world’s only global consumer advocacy body”.

Consumers International said its first IP Watch List focused on copyright - which has “the most immediate impact on consumers’ access to knowledge and thereby on their educational, cultural and developmental opportunities”.

In the listing which saw India come out on top, the other countries with good ratings were South Korea, China, the US and Indonesia.

At the bottom of the list were Britain, Thailand, Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

India was rated high (with a B average on a scale of A to F) in terms of its scope and duration of copyright as well as the freedom of access and use it gave to home users, content creators, the press and those in public affairs.

However, despite topping the list, India didn’t do so well and got a C scale in terms of the leeway it allows for disabled users to access copyrighted work. Likewise, it got only a D when it came to freedom to access and use copyrighted work by libraries.

Consumers International called for a “balanced copyright regime in which the importance of copyright flexibilities and of the maintenance of a vibrant public domain are upheld”.

India’s strengths and weaknesses of its copyright laws - from a consumer’s perspective -were closely studied and the detailed analysis made available online at http://a2knetwork.org/reports2009/india.

The study praises India’s Copyright Act as being “a relatively balanced instrument that recognises the interests of consumers through its broad private use exception, and by facilitating the compulsory licensing of works that would otherwise be unavailable”.

It points out that “neither has India rushed to accede to the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) Copyright Treaty, which would expose India’s consumers to the same problems experienced in other jurisdictions that have prohibited the use of circumvention devices to gain access to legally acquired copyright material”.

The study acknowledges that copyright infringement, particularly in the form of physical media, is widespread in India. It adds though that this must be taken in the context that India, although fast-growing, remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

“Although India’s cultural productivity over the centuries and to the present day has been rich and prodigious, its citizens are economically disadvantaged as consumers of the culture to which they have contributed,” says the study, which goes counter to the dominant trend of pushing for tighter copyright rules and enforcement.

It points to certain limitations - not all libraries can copy works that cannot reasonably be obtained commercially. Only public libraries can do so and they can make only three copies of such works.

No explicit rule exists to allow libraries to copy works for users for the purpose of research or study. Only limited permission is given for the reproduction of unpublished works by libraries. No provisions allow for libraries to make preservation or archive copies of material in their collection.

Of the significant findings, Consumers International said: “The list of countries that best support the interests of consumers is dominated by large Asian economies but they are in odd company with the US, which has regularly criticised those same countries for failing to adequately protect and enforce intellectual property rights.”

It suggested that this “reflects the fact” that US policy makers “apply double standards when comparing their own copyright system to systems from abroad”.

It said countries with copyright regimes that “most disregard the interests of consumers” was also an “odd grouping”.

This included the country in which the copyright law was first developed in the 16th century - Britain.

Together with it were “developing and transitional economies, whose outdated copyright laws fail to take advantage of all the flexibilities that international law allows them to benefit local consumers”.

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