Monday, February 28, 2011

Book Link cover story (and editorial): Why hurry on copyright law? 2m should be reciprocal, says BJP

(With permission from) Book Link (March 2011 issue)

Why hurry on copyright law? 2m should be reciprocal, says BJP

Will this budget session of Parliament take up consideration and passing of the copyright amendment bill 2010? Although the standing committee of HRD has given its opinion enabling the government to take up a stand, there are various facets that need to be debated.

 A number of parliamentarians, including the main Opposition, hold that there is a need to rethink since the proposed amendments have failed to satisfy the section it wishes to address. The standing Committee chairman, Oscar Fernandes, preferred not to commit either way. “We have done our work and now it is up to the minister to accept or reject or put it for discussion in the House,” he said.

 Expressing his reservations, BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar, who is also a member of the standing committee, said, “It has many faults and no stakeholders are happy. HRD committee has listened to all the stakeholders, their suggestions, details and recovery. It will be good, if their suggestions and claims are accepted.” However, uncertain about the future events, he said, “I don’t know whether our recommendationswill be accepted, unless new bill comes we won’t be able to comment.” 

“The basic point is the interest of our authors and the Indian publishing industry. It would be unjustified and unethical to succumb to the pressure of international business interests and lobbyists. Indian publishing industry and authors should get the level playing field enjoyed by their foreign counterparts”, Amitabh Sinha, head of the BJP intellectual cell and a member of the party’s national executive, said. Why should we show our haste, he asked.

While there is awareness about how the bill could impact the film industry (the main reason for the amendment) not much has been spoken about its adverse fallout on the book industry. Experts in the publishing industry have slammed the original bill as well as recommendations of the parliamentary standing committee as something that would give a lethal blow to Indian publishers, authors and book lovers.

 Some well-known authors, including Gurcharan Das, Jaishree Mista and William Dalrymple, publishing houses and associations have already launched a signature campaign to oppose the proposed amendment. A strong voice on this was heard at the recently held Jaipur literary festival.

Such an amendment is bad in law and should not be incorporated, Association of Publishing Industry (API) said.

“The amendment should mean a win-win-win situation wherein publishers, authors and customers emerge as beneficiaries. But it will do exactly the opposite and everyone potentially loses out,”opines Anand Bhushan of FIP.”

 “The amendment threatens to dismantle the very fabric of Indian writing in English. The act is capable of setting India back a hundred years,” Thomas Abraham, MD of Hachette forecasted.

 “I am sure they have relevance in other applicable areas. I know for a fact that many performing artists are happy with some of the proposals but many proposed amendments (2m) don’t make sense to publishing,”  MD & CEO of Sage Publication, Vivek Mehra opined.

 The Copyright (amendment) Bill, 2010 proposes to amend Section 2(m) of the Copyright Act, 1957 by inserting a Proviso stating that ‘a copy of a work published in any country outside India with the permission of the author of the work and imported from that country into India shall not be deemed to be an infringing copy’.

 Editor-in-chief of Random House Chiki Sarkar explains: “2m allows the import of all editions of books into the country, making India an open market. This means that the Indian edition of a book will cease to exist as it will no longer be the only edition available in India. This means that many authors, particularly those who are also published internationally, will simply be distributed into the country but not published. An author won’t just lose out on being published properly but will also receive less income since royalties on books published in India are much higher than the royalties on high discounted imported copies which are on net receipts.”

 Legal opinion seems to believe the same. “The proposed amendment appears not to have been carefully considered,” advocate Nandita Saikai said. “If this amendment is passed, it would adversely affect all the stakeholders in the publishing industry whether they are authors, readers or publishers,” she added.

 While major developed countries do not allow parallel importation, there are some that do allow such as Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong. These countries “are basically trading hubs with no substantial domestic publishing that can be damaged by parallel importation. More importantly, there are no low priced edition programmes in these countries, unlike India which allow consumers to access low-priced content”, explained Saikia.

Many publishers argue that India is already the lowest priced market in the world. The amendment would rather shrink Indian publishing industry and replace the bookstores with big international bestsellers eventually leading to an increase in the price of books once the competing Indian publishers are out.

Divya Dubey, author and publisher of Gyaana Books explained, “if we legalize this import, the foreign editions will soon lower their prices to kill the Indian original edition of the same book. With no territorial protection, it will be the death of every Indian edition”. Her blog is making best attempts to educate people on the adverse impact of parallel importation.

(with inputs from Maharishi Kant Singh)

A death knell for Indian books (Editorial): Sudesh Verma

When the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, the three leading countries publishing English books, do not allow parallel imports, what is the hurry for India to argue in its favour?  There seems a lobby at work, or else she would not be contemplating one-way traffic when bilateralism is a key to international trade policy.

 Publishers based in these countries will naturally be happy since they would get the vast Indian market without the pains of opening up their own markets to their books published in India. The foreign books published in India cost less than one tenth of the price in the US, the UK or Germany. The much hyped amendment to the Copyright Act (because of the film industry related provisions) has dangerous consequences for the book industry in India but there are few who are actually aware of these.

The bill has been considered in detail by the standing committee after it was introduced in the Rajya Sabha. The committee headed by senior parliamentarian Oscar Fernandes has recommended parallel importation. Now the same is likely to be taken up for consideration in this budget session of Parliament.

 Parallel importation is nothing but violation of the territoriality of the copyright. If this is legalized, the industry will collapse even before it has learnt to crawl. As of today, the copyright owner sells rights to different publishers on the condition that the sale would be limited to the territories mentioned in the agreement. Indian publishers buy rights from foreign publishers on the same basis. None violates this arrangement.

If territoriality is violated there would be a free for all situation. For example, a foreign publisher can buy the rights of best selling Indian books and print the same in mass, say in China, and export the same for sale in India. What will happen to the Indian publisher who invested in the author? It would not be able to compete with its own product. In the long run, this would discourage the copyright owner from selling rights to foreign publishers which would in turn mean less exposure of Indian authors to the international markets.

Sample this:  A foreign publisher buys rights of  an Indian title and prints it in bulk. It exhausts some stock that earns him profit in the international market and then dumps the books in the Indian market. Since it would be printed in bulk it would achieve economies of scale. The same books by Indian publisher would suffer since the cycle may be one year in mature market but three to five years in India.

The author who should have earned royalty from the sale of the books in India on the cover price would not do so if the books do not sell. He/She would earn only a marginal royalty on books published by a foreign publisher and brought to India cheap since the royalty is on net price and the net price may be much less. As of today, they can theoretically earn by selling rights to all countries individually without infringing on other territories.

 That the buyer would benefit is fiction. The buyer would eventually stop getting to read new authors since publishers would lose the incentive to invest in an author. The author and publisher market relationship would suffer immensely.

 If the foreign publisher establishes an Indian author, it may have just a token Indian publishing and would publish the same through the international chain and then dump the books in India through the official route. The Indian subsidiary of the foreign publisher would end up distributing these titles rather than creating an independent publishing programme. The worst scenario in case of competition between a foreign publisher and its Indian subsidiary would be that those transacting in remainders sale will benefit the most. One must remember that books do not attract duty etc.


  1. The point is that even the parent foreign companies aren't happy. Imagine what will happen if this bill becomes a law. What would the instant reaction be from the Indian publishers to defend their titles?
    No buying or selling of rights. It'll throw everything out of gear. And publishers abroad also anticipate that. There will be massive chaos.

  2. This will mean that in the long run there will be less incentive for publishers to invest in an original Indian publishing programme and less and less Indian authors will be published. And small publishers will also be hurt as bookstores will have less and less space to stock Indian titles. The Indian reader will only get to choose from international titles whether they want to read those or not. And less and less people will read as Indians are more interested in reading about themselves than about the western world. The fragile reading culture that is just about budding now will die a premature death. For what? To achieve some vague idealistic target that will destroy Indian literature in the long run?!

  3. Yes, that's a major concern for small publishers. Already we've to fight hard for shelf space. So many bookstores have closed down. There are retailers who don't even make the effort to open the boxes to display the titles -- hence we lose out on visibility. Sometimes, they're not even aware they have the titles in their shop!

    Regarding 'foreign' parent companies, they look at the Indian market as a major publishing market in the future, with its own publishing programme. They don't want to turn it into a dumping ground. If they were only looking at distribution, they could do it with a country manager and a stockist. They wouldn't make the effort of setting up offices and operations here. They're the ones investing, so obviously they want to see the market grow.