India needs stronger enforcement of copyright and IP laws to reduce piracy and counterfeiting

Our statutes have the right architecture in place, even to the extent that they can be applied seamlessly to changing technology around us; it’s the enforcement of these laws that we sorely lack.
Priyanka Khimani
Priyanka Khimani

Innovation is fundamental to charting a country's economic growth and development. Complemented by effective intellectual property and patent protection laws, it can enable innovators and researchers in countries like ours to climb up the global ladder as well.

In India, the narrative around Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is quite complex. While there is a major focus on innovation and promotion of art and culture, ‘protection’ of these inventions, especially in the creative industry, is rather a weak point. India has improved its IP score by 13%, but still ranks 43rd out of 55 countries as per the International IP Index, 2022.

There has been a big surge in pirated content during the pandemic. The rate of music piracy in India specifically remains higher than the global average (30%) at 68%, according to a report by the Indian Music Industry (IMI). Other reports have suggested that the Indian demand for pirated content may be double or triple the global average. Not only does it affect India’s position on the global IP rankings, but it also endangers the work of creators and the many innovations which are birthed here annually.

The problem has also become significantly concerning in recent times, when there have been reports of theft, design misuse and copyright infringement. There are also many ambiguities and loopholes in the present laws, such as the Copyright Act, 1957, which raise concerns. While efforts have been made to boost innovation and cultural excellence, there's also a critical need for safeguarding the same with intellectual property rights, if we are to climb up the global ladder.

How content piracy impacts art creators and their revenue

The lack of effective IP laws leads to instances of content theft and copyright infringement - a problem which has become exaggerated with increasing internet and smartphone penetration. The leaking of content on unofficial platforms (or prior to official release) can cause significant loss in revenue for producers and artists. Despite nationalized IP laws formulated in 2016, there are a lot of loopholes and ambiguities which increase the risk threshold for creators and producers. A 2021 report titled State of the Internet highlighted that the highest searches for pirated content pertained to movies, TV shows, music, software, and publishing, with India ranking the third highest after the US and Russia.

What’s also staggering is the impact copyright infringement and piracy lead to, behind the scenes. It can lead to a loss in livelihood and steal credit and hard work from the lakhs of people who work in the creative industry. According to research conducted by the US-India Business Council, the Indian film industry has experienced a 11% loss in employment due to piracy alone in the recent years. What it also leads to is a decline in revenue estimates. The figures are concerning, and put our content creators at a significant risk. Setting up and enacting a legal framework must be prioritized, so as to ensure that content creation is empowered, yet protected from digital risks such as piracy.

Government’s efforts to crack down on piracy and copyright trouble

To tackle the rising menace of copyright infringement, the government has been taking a serious approach to dispel India's tarnished image and provide better protection to its artists and entrepreneurs. From formulating newer IPR laws to checking on enforcement, government authorities have ramped up efforts to create a strong IPR framework. The change has also helped improve innovation and IP numbers.

The current governmental policies in place have also been formulated keeping the industry's benefit in mind. The National IPR Policy (2016) has also been crafted as a means to stimulate creation of IPRs and ensure an effective ecosystem for redressal and streamlining of IP-related processes. The creation of the Cell for IPR Promotion and Management (CIPAM) by the Ministry of Commerce and setting up of Cyber Digital Crime Units are right measures to overlook grievances in cyberspace. The cornerstone laid down by the National IPR Policy and the efforts made by the Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) have helped increase the filing of IP patents in the country as well. The Central and state governments can also look at issuing free trade agreements (FTAs) or entering into trade pacts to ensure greater enforcement of content infringement and to provide protection for the creative industry present here.

The way forward

IP laws aren’t of importance just to legal experts, but also to all those actively involved in creation or facilitation of services - be it artists, musicians, filmmakers, or software developers. Although India has earned a bad reputation for piracy in the past, if innovation is to be advanced, IPR policies and copyright laws must be effectively enforced across industries. It is important that the government strikes a delicate balance by checking on effective implementation of the existing laws and floating newer incentives and laws that keep infringement under check and do not cause a revenue loss.

Our statutes have the right architecture in place, even to the extent that they can be applied seamlessly to changing technology around us; it’s the enforcement of these laws that we sorely lack. So, it’s not so much about the laws needing an overhaul or rewriting as much as it is about stricter enforcement and implementation. We also lack a variety of precedents, because most parties shy away from litigation and settle out of court.

Additionally, public awareness about the importance of IPR also needs to be enhanced. While India's content consumption has reached an all-time high, it is imperative that stakeholders pay due attention to making internet users aware of the ills of piracy. Solid implementation of IP laws needs specialized courts, including tariff courts. Promoting a good IPR-protective system will not just boost the spirit of creativity and innovation, but also help the nation shine on the global platform.

Priyanka Khimani is the Founder of Khimani & Associates.

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