Between the black and white of copyright protection, there exists a grey area--the fair use clause, which looks after the interest of the public in accessing any protected work. This fair dealing permits the unauthorised copying of a copyrighted work, provided that the act of copying is for a greater good and in the interest of society.
In India, the principle of ‘fair dealing’ is enshrined in Sections 39 and 52 of the Indian Copyright Act. Section 39 lists acts that do not infringe broadcast reproduction rights and performers’ rights. Section 52 lists the acts that do not constitute infringement of copyright.
According to Section 52, the fair dealing exception applies to the use of literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works in the context of:
The scope of Section 52 was widened by a legislative amendment in 2012 to include:
Fair dealing itself has not been defined in the act. However, it is a legal doctrine that allows a user to make limited use of copyrighted work without the permission of the owner.
The High Court of Madras in Blackwood & Sons v A.N. Parasuraman in 1959 held that there should be no mens rea (intention or knowledge) to compete with the copyright holder and derive benefits from the copyrighted work. For the defence of fair dealing to succeed, the following two conditions should be met: no mens rea to compete with the copyright holder; and there should be no improper use of the copyrighted work.
The High Court of Delhi in the chancellor, masters and scholars of the University of Oxford v Rameshwari Photocopy Services in 2016 recognised the socio-economic realities of India by upholding the access to education. The Leading publishers, Oxford University Press (OUP), Cambridge University Press (CUP) and Taylor & Francis (T&F), filed a lawsuit against Delhi University and Rameshwari Photocopy Service, the licensed photocopier for creating and distributing course packs to the students of the university. The defendant was making course packs by photocopying and compiling major portions from relevant textbooks. The court noted that there is no dissimilarity between a student receiving a book from the University of Delhi and copying it and the defendant doing the same job, as long as the copy was made for private use.
It was held that the defendant was not a competitor as they were only making compilations of small portions of prescribed textbooks. This was protected under Section 52 of the Copyright Act.
The High Court of Delhi in Syndicate Press of University of Cambridge v Kasturi Lal & Sons in 2006 observed that: “Law should encourage enterprise, research and scholarship but such encouragement cannot come at the cost of the right of an individual to protect against the misappropriation of what is essentially a product of his intellect and ingenuity.”
“The law encourages innovation and improvement but not plagiarism. Copyright is a form of protection and not a barrier against research and scholarship. Lifting portions of the original work and presenting it as one’s own creation can in no way be described as any form of bona fide enterprise or activity. Research and scholarship are easily distinguishable from imitation and plagiarism.”
Copyright laws play a vital role in the internet age, especially with respect to content creation. There is plethora of information that is available on the internet, which might or might not be copyrighted. The reference to online copyright issues can be found in the Copyrights Act of 1957 and the Information Technology Act 2000.
The rise of the internet has led to developing a vast repository of data residing across servers, which constitute publicly available information. The process of automatically extracting information from publicly available servers is termed as data extraction. The process of data extraction can take a toll on the resources of the websites, which try to impede this process by using various technologies, such as CAPTCHA.
Data extraction involves copying and therefore activating the copyright laws. Section 52 of the Copyright Act allows copying or making backup copies or adaptation for the purposes for which the program was supplied to the user. Also, it is allowed to make backup copies as a temporary protection against loss, destruction or damage to use the program for the purposes for which the program was supplied.
Section 10(a) of the Information Technology Act relates to the validity of contracts formed through electronic means on the internet. So the formation of contract is solely by electronic means, by virtue of which a liability for all infringing actions can be assessed.
The concept of fair dealing is still at a very nascent stage in India and requires a strict analysis of approach in interpreting (strict or liberal) the fair dealing clause. A probable reason for adopting the fair dealing doctrine is that India attaches tremendous importance to research and study. Indian courts need to develop the distinctive features of its fair dealing regime as the copyright jurisprudence is waiting to be further developed to address fundamental issues about the purpose, meaning and application of the Indian law on fair dealing.