For those interested in policy advocacy, the NUJS Law Review has an elaborate paper outlining the tireless advocacy efforts (spanning more than 10 full years) of a bunch of dedicated campaigners who strove valiantly to foster access for the disabled. Their efforts resulted in the culmination of a newly introduced section 52(1)(zb) to the copyright regime. As many of you know, this is one of the widest possible copyright “disability” exceptions anywhere in the world, providing effectively that any conversion of a copyrighted work to make it more accessible to a disabled person (on a non- profit basis) will not count as a copyright infringement.
One name that stands out and will continue to stand out for all time to come in this advocacy campaign is that of Rahul Cherian, a pioneering crusader for disability rights. Rahul not only led the advocacy campaign that led to this revolutionary copyright exception for India, but also played a stellar role with the WBU (World Blind Union) in helping shape an international treaty on similar lines (the Marrakesh treaty) and bring it to fruition.
Unfortunately, even before the Marrakesh treaty was adopted, Rahul was snatched away from us by a cruel twist of fate. However, his legacy lives on and will continue to guide us for a long time to come. As Lawrence Liang notes in this moving piece: “Rahul leaves behind an important legacy in terms of his work, but a far more important one on how we understand the very idea of a free spirit. His singularity, while irreplaceable, provides us with a vocabulary of thinking of human rights struggles as really a right to the maximum enjoyment of life and doing it with a sense of lightness.”
It may interest you to note that Rahul began his career as an IP attorney with Kurian and Kurian, a Chennai based IP boutique. He later found his true calling in working to improve the lot of the differently-abled. He founded Inclusive Planet, a technology/policy outfit to create technology solutions to redress the book famine (by encouraging sharing of accessible literature) and undertake policy advocacy on behalf of disabled communities.
Disability Advocacy and Indian Copyright Amendment
It was a chance call from Rahul that got me into disability advocacy as well; and in no time, his excitement and passion rubbed off on me. Along with other outstanding disability activists and scholars (prominent amongst them were Prof Sam Taraporewala, Dipendra Manocha, Nirmita Narasimhan, Lawrence Liang, Kanchan Pamnani, Ketan Kothari and Neha Trivedi), we campaigned for a meaningful copyright exception, made representations before the Parliamentary Standing Committee and succeeded in getting this historic amendment through the legislature. All this was possible owing to the stellar support of the government (and in particular the untiring work of GR Raghavender, the copyright registrar and Prof NSG, the governments’ key copyright advisor).
We’ve reflected on this advocacy effort in detail in this NUJS law review special issue dealing with the 2012 copyright amendments. To access other articles in this special issue (which resulted from a copyright conference at NUJS a year or so ago), see here (hold your cursor over the NUJS Volume 5 (Number 4) to get access to all the special issue articles).
Rahul is a co-author of this piece (along with Prof Taraporewala and me), but passed away just as we neared completion, making it his last work of writing/scholarship. We consider ourselves blessed to have been a part of his last writing endeavor. We’re also very grateful to the NUJS law review for dedicating the entire special issue to Rahul’s memory.
For those interested, the abstract of our paper states as below:
“In a momentous development, the Indian Copyright Act, 1957, was amended to introduce one of the most progressive provisions ever in the history of global copyright law. These amendments seek to foster access to copyrighted works for the disabled by providing for the conversion and distribution of copyrighted works without the risk of copyright infringement. It is important to appreciate that these amendments did not emerge overnight. Rather, they were the culmination of more than a decade of advocacy, by a group of dedicated campaigners drawn from a diverse set of stakeholders, including leaders of the disability community, civil society activists and the academia. This paper provides a ringside view of the evolution and progress of the campaign, with its final culmination in the amendment. It tracks the advocacy effort through the lens of ‘new social movements’, and focuses on the need to bring together different stakeholders with complementary skills to achieve shared goals of public interest. Additionally, this paper reflects upon the scope of the amendment, the current international efforts to secure a global treaty on this count and India’s role in shaping it.
The authors of this paper were an integral part of the advocacy campaign and worked extensively with several others to secure the introduction of this critical amendment. Unfortunately upon completion of this paper, we lost the most committed campaigner of all, Rahul Cherian. This paper is dedicated to his memory and the boundless passion and enthusiasm with which he brought so many of us together in his quest for creating a better world for the disabled. Over the last few years, Rahul worked tirelessly to champion the cause of the disabled in India and achieved commendable progress on several fronts. However, the copyright amendment will rate as his crowning glory, given the rather difficult political terrain that had to be traversed. Rahul is to be credited for providing a fresh fillip to the advocacy campaign and mediating differences between a diverse set of people with different skill sets, ideologies and expectations and ensuring that they worked together as ‘one’ team with a common goal.”
Rahul’s journey is far from over. Though we’ve lost him physically, his energy, spirit and infectious enthusiasm will continue to inspire many of us who struggle in our own little way to make this planet more inclusive, habitable and humane.