India: Protecting Copyright In The Digital Environment

Last Updated: 30 January 2015
Article by Zoya Nafis

While the contours of copyright law have always been drawn by the developments in the technological world, the emergence of digital technologies towards the concluding decades of the twentieth century as defining paradigms of new age communication raised a whole new set of challenges to copyright regimes. The traditional notions of the basic concepts such as rights of reproduction and distribution have become inadequate and even irrelevant in the digital age. All works can now be digitalized whether they comprise texts, images, sound or diagrams and once digitalized the various elements such as images are all 'equal' and can be merged, transformed, manipulated or mixed to create an endless variety of new works. Earlier rights of reproduction distribution affected tangible physical copies only of a work. The new technologies brought in non-material and distribution. Physical reproductions were replaced by digital reproduction, which was easy as well as cost effective.

The major objective of the copyright law is to strike out a balance between rights of the copyright holders and the general public. To achieve its objective, copyright has been amended with time to time so as to meet the requirements posed by the technological advancements. Indian Copyright Act has also been amended to counter the threats posed by the technological developments.

With the advent of the digital environment, the access, use, duplication or modification of the original work has become really easy. Digital environment has created a platform for people for widespread cost effective distribution of the original works, posing serious threats to the interest of the creator.

Threats posed by the digital environment to the copyrighted work are way too different from that in the normal course of physical world. To counter these threats innumerable techniques have been developed to make digital works difficult to copy, distribute and access without necessary permission. These techniques are covered under the head of Digital Rights Management (DRM).

Digital Right Management includes techniques which have been developed to control duplication, modification and distribution of original works. The authors or the creators of the original works contend that DRM techniques are necessary in order to protect their interest by preventing free and unauthorized copying and distribution of their work. However there are few who support the view that DRM techniques pose unnecessary hurdles for the public and impede the way of innovation and creativity by not letting others from being motivated by the original work of others.

Some of the DRM techniques are as follows:

  • Access Control and Copy Control

Access and copy control software enables the creator to keep a check on the free and illegal exploitation of their work. These techniques ensure that only who pay, must enjoy a right over the product.

Access controls are a category of software that is designed to prevent a user from getting a first copy of a work unless they have a license to do so. Copy controls are snippets of software that try to stop public from making a reproduction of work once they have obtained a copy.

Access controls are relatively easy to implement. Example of this can be a website that requires customers to pay a fee before being offered a download.

Copy controls avoid any manipulation of the original work.

  • Encryption Schemes

Encryption Schemes allow creators to prevent any unauthorized access to their original work. Encryption of content is a way to determine the authorized user in the digital environment. Encryption involves digital scrambling of the bits that make up content to prevent the content from being seen clearly until it is decrypted. Only authorized users have the keys to decrypt the work.

  • Digital Watermarks

Digital Watermarks are the best techniques that help authors to trace the source of a work and any unauthorised duplication or distribution of their original work. The unique watermark embedded in the original work can link the use to the original work and any unauthorised copying or use can be traced.

Special features are embedded into the content that are not visible as such, but which can be read by a detection device so that it knows whether the content being played or used is authorized and where the source of the content was originated. Such information can provide data on the author, rights, distribution, etc. It can also contain copy control information and instructions.

There are other various technological protection measures by way of which the infringement of copyright work can be prevented and the interest of the authors can be secured. However instead of these techniques large number of data is copied and distributed on the digital environment posing adverse effects on the rights of the creators.


Many techniques have been developed to protect the original work like digital watermarking, access and copy controls etc. However, despite the fact that these techniques have been incorporated in the legislations, regulation and protection of original works in the digital environment remains a goal that is yet to be achieved. It is very important that ideas should be available to the general public so that the flow of creativity must not be blocked. However creators and authors must always be incentivized for their efforts. Hence the interest of both must be kept in mind while enacting and implementing DRM techniques.

Few DRM provisions were introduced in the Indian Copyright law by the way of an amendment in 2012. Section 65A and 65B were added to the Indian Copyright Act, 1957. These DRM provisions under the Indian law are not as extensive and exhaustive as US laws. Being blamed for the poor protection and enforcement policies, it is high time India should stringently follow these provisions of digital rights management and keep a check on copyright infringement in the digital environment. However it is pertinent to note that a balance must always be maintained between copyright holdersand general users.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Zoya Nafis
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