The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) has proposed amendments to rules that might make it easier for online platforms to use provisions under India’s Copyright Act to set the fees they have to pay to use copyrighted content.
The issue of whether internet-based platforms, including online music streaming platforms, can use licencing provisions under the country’s copyright regulations has long been a pain point, as the rules currently specify only television and radio broadcasters. This means online broadcasters at present directly negotiate with the copyright holder to decide the royalties that they have to pay to get a licence to reproduce the work on their platform.
DPIIT’s proposed amendments aim to ensure “smooth and flawless compliance” of the country’s copyright regulations “in light of technological advancement in digital era” and to bring the Copyright Act in parity with “other relevant legislations”, the department stated in a release Monday. DPIIT has sought comments and suggestions from all stakeholders by June 29. The draft proposes to widen the scope of platforms that can use a statutory provision, Section 31 D of the Act, that allows broadcasting or performance of copyrighted with advanced notice to the holder of the copyright. More importantly, this section allows a legal body to fix the royalties that the platform would have to pay to the copyright holder.
Another amendment in the draft, the department proposed that copyright societies in India, which help the owners of the copyright grant licences to reproduce their work, be mandated to draw up and make public an “annual transparency report”. The report is expected to include details like the society’s refusals to grant licences, financial information on revenue for each category of rights administered, the use of their income and the royalties due to the owners of the copyright. “The amendments seem to be a way to get around a recent high court judgment that prevented an online streaming platform from applying for a statutory licence under Section 31 D,” said Prashant Reddy, Senior Resident Fellow, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.
The case Reddy referred to is that of a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by Tips Industries against Airtel’s online music streaming platform, Wynk, for hosting its content despite failed negotiations to renew its copyright licencing agreement. According to the Bombay High Court’s judgment in April, Wynk in November 2017 had invoked Section 31-D of the Act claiming that, as a broadcasting organization, they are “entitled” to a statutory licence under this section. The court, in its ruling against Wynk, noted the absence of the term “internet broadcasting” in present legislation.
“The absence of express words in Section 31-D providing for a statutory licence in respect of internet streaming and/or downloading, was a conscious legislative choice. In view of the above and in the absence of an express statutory provision including internet broadcasting within the purview of Section 31-D, the scope of Section 31-D cannot be expanded to include the same,” stated the order.