An overview of Copyright Law in the digital era

By Shubham Shakti


Intellectual property refers to the ownership of intangible goods. These include ideas, designs, symbols, writings and creations. It also refers to digital media such as audio and video clips those are accessible through the electronic media.  Since intellectual property is intangible, if it is stolen, it may be difficult to recover. 

The influence of digital technology on information technology is phenomenal. The present millennium is witnessing a new culture that is cyber culture. IPR awareness is the key to technological innovations and in the emerging knowledge-based economy; the importance of IPR is likely to go further. The awareness among the creators of information and knowledge about IPR has become essential in the digital environment because in the digital environment it is becoming difficult to prove rights’ violation whenever they occur. With the enhancement of technology the importance of intellectual property has also increased. Information Technology is growing faster than any other communication vehicle in the history of mankind. Invention of digital technology was the most important revolution in the last century. This new technology may be in the field of Patent, trade mark, Copyright etc. 

So, when we talk about Copyright protection, it comes in our mind that it is generally granted to original literary, musical, dramatic or artistic works. But the growth of new technology has given rise to new concepts like computer programs, computer database, computer layouts, various works on web, etc. So, it is very necessary to know more about copyright with regard to computer programs/software, computer databases and various work in cyber space. Copyright is a key issue in intellectual property rights in digital era. This paper deals with scope and coverage of various concepts connected with Copyright, also the Copyright issues associated with digital / electronic information and protection of digital right.

Keywords: Copyright, Digital Era, Trade, Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

  1. Copyright Overview:

Copyright is a right given by the law to creators of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and producers of cinematograph films and sound recordings. In fact, it is a bundle of rights including, inter alia, rights of reproduction, communication to the public, adaptation and translation of the work. There could be slight variations in the composition of the rights depending on the work. Copyright is basically the right to copy or reproduction of the work where copyright exists.   Copyright is additionally the creator’s privilege for not permitting anybody to duplicate his/her unique work. Copyright goes on for a specific timeframe after which the work is said to enter the open space. 

Copyright lasts for a certain time period after which the work is said to enter the public domain. In the case of original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, the duration of copyright is the lifetime of the author or artist, and 60 years counted from the year following the death of the author and then it goes into public domain. In the case of cinematograph films, sound recordings, photographs, posthumous publications, anonymous and pseudonymous publications, works of government and works of international organizations are protected for a period of 60 years which is counted from the year following the date of publication.

  1. Copyright in the Digital Era (Copyright in Digital Environment ): 

 Twenty first century has seen a surprising advancement in computerized innovations which enhance our ways of lives. The Human mankind has now ventured into an era which requires a much sophisticated technology called “Digital era”. And with outbreak of novel corona virus (COVID-19), growths of technology and digitalization have increased. 

Every field of entertainment and information has enhanced in India and the world as a whole.  A library where one conceived books in enormous numbers, are making a progress into a time of digital book. And with the pandemic the mode of education has now shifted to E-classrooms mostly. Notes, various study materials have now been enhanced into e-books.  A period will come when digitization will take away print simply like the PC keyboard, and mouse have minimized the utilization of typewriter. Print despite exists but it is being gradually shifted to electronic type of information which offers a superior option against the confinements of print innovation. 

Law is a reaction to social or any other difficulties or challenges. Law while reacting answers such difficulties or challenges and in the process creates itself. Copyright is one of the best examples on which one arrives at while diving upon the connection between law and innovations. 

The new technology and innovations have expanded the significance of intellectual property. This new innovation might be in the field of Patent, trade mark, Copyright and so on. At the point when we talk about copyright protection it comes in our mind that it is commonly allowed to unique scholarly, artistic, musical, dramatic. The development of new innovation has offered ascend to new ideas like PC programs, PC database, PC designs, different takes a shot at web, and so forth. So it is extremely important to find out about copyright concerning PC programs/programming, PC databases and different works in the internet. Copyright is the key in intellectual property rights in this digital era. 

India’s Copyrights Act, 1957 as amended by Copyright (Amendment) Act, 2012, fully reflects Berne Convention on copyrights. Additionally, India is party to the Geneva Convention for the protection of rights and procedures of Phonograms and to the Universal Copyright Convention. India is also an active member of World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and UNESCO. The copyright act has been amended periodically to keep pace with changing requirements. 

The 2012 amendments make Indian Copyright Law compliant with the Internet Treaties – the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT).

Also, while introducing technological protection measures, the amended law ensures that fair use survives in the digital era by providing special fair use provisions. The amendments have made many author-friendly amendments, special provisions for disabled, amendments facilitating access to works and other amendments to streamline copyright administration.

This article gives a narration of the changes made by the Copyright (Amendment) Act.

The amendments introduced through Copyright (Amendment) Act 2012 can be categorized into:

  1. Amendments to rights in artistic works, cinematograph films and sound recordings.                                                                                                             2.   WCT and WPPT related amendment to rights
    3. Author-friendly amendments on mode of Assignment and Licenses
    4. Amendments facilitating Access to Works
    5. Strengthening enforcement and protecting against Internet piracy
    6. Reform of Copyright Board and other minor amendments. 
  2. Copyright Issues and Challenges:

 The prominent copyright issues in the digital era can be classified into three groups:

  1. Issues relating to a whole new set of work, namely, computer programs, databases and multimedia works;

(ii) Issues relating to reproduction, distribution and communication to the public of a work through digital media; and 

  1. New Works: 

Technology had in the past given birth to new forms of creative expressions in the creative arts which were subsequently brought under the purview of copyright protection. Thus, the invention of photography resulted in ‘photographs’, that of analogue technology in the new class of works named ‘phonograms’ and that of ‘cinematography’ in a whole new set of works such as cinematographic films, video films and so on. The widespread application of digital technologies has also given birth to certain identifiable new works like computer programs, databases, and multimedia works which initially raised many doubts about their coverage under copyright laws.

  1. Right Of Production:

In the Indian Copyright Act, digital reproductions are already covered in the cases of literary, dramatic and musical works where the expression ‘reproduction’ includes “the storing of it in any medium by electronic means”. The definitions of cinematograph film and sound recording to a great extent seem to take care of digital copying of those works. However, the artistic works are not covered as the right of reproduction bestowed upon artistic work is only “in any material form”. There is a need for law to address this lacuna and also for clarifying the position in regard to cinematograph films and sound recordings to remove any doubts about digital copying of such works being covered by the right to make copies.  The problem also arises on the issue of transitory or incidental reproduction that takes place in Internet communication.

In the Indian Copyright Act, digital reproductions are already covered in the cases of literary, dramatic and musical works where the expression ‘reproduction’ includes “the storing of it in any medium by electronic means”. The definitions of cinematograph film and sound recording to a great extent seem to take care of digital copying of those works. However, the artistic works are not covered as the right of reproduction bestowed upon artistic work is only “in any material form”. There is a need for law to address this lacuna and also for clarifying the position in regard to cinematograph films and sound recordings to remove any doubts about digital copying of such works being covered by the right to make copies.  The problem also arises on the issue of transitory or incidental reproduction that takes place in Internet communication.

  1. Rights of Distribution and Communication to the Public:

 Copyright law grants the owner of copyright the exclusive right to issue copies of the work to the public. Distribution amounts to a copyright infringement if the copies of a particular work are distributed to the public without the prior permission of the copyright owner. 

With specific reference of the right of distribution to computers, no sooner has the work been exhibited on the Internet, than the distribution right is said to be in effect. There appears to be a very thin line between distribution and display. Hardly any distinction can be drawn between the two terms when the right is regulated in cyberspace. `


The latest Copyright (Amendment) Act 2012 has introduced the vital changes to prepare ground for copyright protection in the emerging digital environment briefly stated as under: 

  1. Some of the exceptions (such as fair dealing, use for education purpose) which were earlier applicable only in relation to certain types of work (e.g. literary, dramatic and musical works), have been made applicable to all types of work; 
  2. A fair dealing exception has been extended to the reporting of current events, including the reporting of a lecture delivered in public. Earlier, fair dealing exception was limited for
  3. private or personal use, including research, and 
  1. Criticism or review, whether of that work or of any other work. 
  2. The storing of a work in any medium by electronic means by a non-commercial public library, for preservation if the library already possesses a non-digital copy of the work; 
  3. The adaptation, reproduction, issue of copies or communication to the public of any work in a format, including sign language, specially designed only for the use of persons suffering from a visual, aural or other disability that prevents their enjoyment of such works in their normal format; 
  4. The importation of copies of any literary or artistic work, such as labels, company logos or promotional or explanatory material, that is purely incidental to other lawfully. 

In India a comprehensive process of reformulating copyright law was made recently by way of a major overhaul of copyright law. It provided for punishment for those who in any way circumvent a technological measure applied for the purpose of protecting any of the rights conferred by the Copyright Act. However, few exceptions were carved out to pave for legitimate use of copyright material while encountering technology, which can be summed up as under (Section 65A of the Copyright (Amendment) Act 2012):

  1. Doing anything necessary to conduct encryption research using a lawfully obtained encrypted copy; or 
  2.  Conducting any lawful investigation; or 
  3. Doing anything necessary for the purpose of testing the security of a computer system or a computer network with the authorization of its owner or operator; or 
  4. Taking measures necessary in the interest of national security. 

The scope of the exemption under this section should be restricted to owners or operators who are specially authorized by the owners to perform the task and should not be so wide so as to cover any operator in general. One of the major breakthroughs made by India through these amendments was compliance with WIPO mandate without formally ratifying the WIPO Treaty. Also New provisions have been inserted in relation to Right Management Information (RMI). Under the Amendment many acts are considered as offences and are punishable with imprisonment which may extend to two years, as well as, fine. The owner of copyright may also avail of civil remedies provided under Chapter XII against the persons indulging in such acts. 

  1. Conclusion  and Suggestions: 

Digital technology has made copyright enforcement difficult to achieve. It is necessary to balance between easy infringement and expensive enforcement, and to address the uncertainties involved in international litigation. As technology allows copyrighted materials to be transmitted easily around the globe without the authorization of the copyright owner, there is an increased need for protection without borders. A procedural mechanism for international litigation would serve to complement already existing substantive provisions. In order to augment enforcement the following measures may be taken: 

  1. The existing Indian legal framework when it comes to online piracy is undoubtedly inadequate. However, things seem to be changing for the better now. Enough awareness, along with a few new policies to be implemented, could help the growing menace of online copyright infringement. 
  2. There are several cases where it is difficult for the courts to decide who exactly will be liable in case of copyright infringement through the internet. It is therefore important to have clear cut rules that govern liability in cases where multiple countries are involved. 
  3.  The legal framework of Indian copyright law envisage penal and civil provisions to safeguard the interests of the creators, however, it is not free from hassles and hurdles which need to be eliminated. 
  4.  The enforcement aspect of the provisions is a matter of great concern and there is an urgent need of building better administrative machinery for the enforcement of the provisions of the legislation which requires well-oiled enforcement machinery. 
  5. Last but not the least, since, the pirate is using new technologies in the digital environment to infringe on the copyright and related rights, so in the same vein, the holders of these rights should use the very means to counter such actions of infringer. As renowned novelist Chinua Achebe once said the Engel bird says ‘since man has learnt to shoot without missing, I have also learnt to fly without perching’. 
  6. The recent Amendments to the Indian copyright law have certainly given room for using creative lawyering skills to develop and structure innovative business models to help the industries effectively. 

The rights allowed by copyright are restrictive in nature. This selectiveness is now and again criticized as monopoly for the right proprietors. Accordingly, so as to adjust these contradicting private and public interests the governing body gives the cure in the form of drawing impediments/exceptions to copyright. 

6. References: 

  1. The Copyright(amendment)Act 2012, Section 13. 
  2. The Copyright(amendment)Act 2012, Section 14.
  4. Fareed Ahmad Rafiqi1 & Iftikhar Hussian Bhat Copyright Protection in Digital Environment: Emerging Issues
  5. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention ISSN (Online): 2319 – 7722, ISSN (Print): 2319 – 7714 Volume 2 Issue 4 ǁ April. 2013ǁ PP.06-15.
  6. See Explanation (ii) of Section 43 of the Information Technology Act, 2000. (accessed on 11/08/2020)

  1. India and the International Copyright Conventions Jaman H. ShahEconomic and Political Weekly,Vol. 8, No. 13 pp. 645-648
  2. Section 14(a)(i) of Copyright Act 1957
  3. Section 14(a)(i) of Copyright Act 1957
  4. Zakir Thomas, Overview of the changes to the Indian Copyright Law, Journal Of Intellectual Propertyrights. Vol17, July 2012.\

Emerging Trends in Digital Copyright Law in India,

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