Venue: Loyola College
Date: 26th September, 2009
Time: 9:30 AM
Topic: Amend copyright law to grant access to reading materials for the print impaired
Read about the first major event in the Right to Read campaign- the start of an exciting journey!
Launch of the campaign
This was the first major event with respect to the Right to Read campaign. A wide range of dignitaries were invited for the launch. The audience included students, social activists and visually challenged people. About 4oo students from 100 colleges around Chennai and 150 NSS volunteers attended from outside and an almost equal number of students participated from within Loyola College to make this a very large gathering of almost 800-1000 persons. The event was organized by the students of Department of Sociology at Loyola College, Chennai in collaboration with the campaign managers.
The Chief Guest of the event was Mr. Shri Kumar Verma, a well known writer, social activist and a professor of creative English and English literature. He spoke about the issue faced by print impaired persons and how apprehensive people are about sharing books in accessible formats as it is a legal infringement. He appreciated the fact that people have recognized the need for attention to this issue. He observed that Loyola College was the most appropriate venue for this event since students are proactively engaged with social issues. He promised to take initiatives and spread awareness about the campaign and expected the same from others.
Other dignitaries who honored the event were Dr. N. Raja Hussain, Program coordinator, NSS, University of Madras; Mr. Dipendra Manocha, Member, Executive Council, World Blind Union and President, Daisy Forum of India; Mr. Chandrasekar, Treasurer, National Association for the Blind; Ms. Nirmita Narasimhan, Programme Manager, CIS and Mr. Rahul Cherian, Policy Head, Inclusive Planet.
They spoke about the need for the amendment and importance of spreading awareness about this burning issue. In her introduction to the campaign, Nirmita explained that it was not a question of just making the books available in particular formats. If people can read books, it will help literacy, education, employment and promote independent living. A majority of the visually impaired population don’t pursue courses because they don’t have study materials in accessible formats. This is substantiated by looking at the statistics of Delhi University – they have about 1,500 seats reserved for the handicapped. Despite that, in 2008, only 270 students applied and in 2009, only 350 applied. This just goes to show that in addition to making reservations, it is also necessary to provide an enabling reading framework to persons with disabilities by providing materials in accessible formats and a good support system. This statistics served as an eye opener to the audience.
The launch was followed by a signature campaign where a huge banner supporting the campaign was signed by the dignitaries and other participants of the event. In addition to this, volunteers were committed to the task of carrying out a signature campaign on paper. Supporters of the campaign were invited to sign on the declaration and to put down their names to volunteer for the campaign or to help out the print impaired in a sustained fashion by specifying the manner in which they would like to contribute.
The students had organized a rally supporting the need for amendment of the copyright law and to spread awareness about the campaign. 200 students walked around the 97 acre campus with 100 banners carrying slogans like- “Support the Right to Read”, “Change Copyright Law,- free a world of knowledge”, “One Alphabet- several words; one book- several formats “, “Different states, different languages, different cultures- why not different formats? And so on.
Interested people signed the declaration forms to endorse the campaign by voluntarily engaging themselves in any of the activities like creating awareness among public, gathering public support for The Treaty for the Blind at WIPO, online petitions and promoting the campaign online.
Panel Discussion – ‘We the people’The panel discussion kicked off at 1130 hrs with the Master of the Ceremony introducing the panelists; Mr. Dipendra Manocha, President, The Daisy Forum of India (DFI); Prof. Sivaraman, Professor of English, Presidency College, Chennai and Mr. Vijaykumar, Advocate. Ms. Nirmita Narasimhan, Programme Manager, Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) and Mr. Rahul Cherian, Co-founder and Policy Head, Inclusive Planet, were the moderators of the discussion. A salient point to be noted here was that all the panelists present were totally/partially visually challenged.
The discussion started off with Prof. Sivaraman citing his experiences with access to literature other than printed format since 2004. He shared information on the technology that he had been using to ‘read’ books that were prescribed for the students. These were text books or reference material that had been used over a period of time. However, he also threw light on the shortcomings – that newly published text books or literature were not readily available in accessible formats. It usually takes him a considerable amount of time and effort to get materials in Braille or audio formats and hence it is impossible for him to keep abreast of contemporary literature.
An equally important concern that was raised was that only new books with clear print and paper could be accurately scanned electronically owing to quality of the printed characters as well as deterioration of paper quality over time. Any pictorial representation including figures, charts or graphs and even italicized words present problems during scanning.
Mr. Vijaykumar continued the discussion, citing Article 14 of the Constitution of India which mandates Equality before law and equal protection for everybody, saying that the fundamental right of Indian citizens – the right to read for everybody has not been upheld in India owing to the restrictions imposed by the Copyright Act of 1957 and that the Copyright Act, by not including any exceptions or provisions, has failed to protect the interests of persons with visual impairment.
Mr. Dipendra Manocha, President, Daisy Forum of India, gave the international and technological perspective to the panel discussion. He explained about the DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System format) format which acts as a standard format to make 1 source document. This can then be used to convert into other accessible formats. He enlightened the crowd about the three factors that would help in solving the problems currently faced by persons with print impairment in India: First, technology such as Laptops or DAISY players and other handheld devices/readers that would assist in translating/reading out aloud e-books. Secondly, creation of e-books in accessible formats, the current high cost-of-conversion of which can be brought down by volunteering and thirdly by bringing in a change in the government policy on Copyright law. Mr. Manocha also informed the audience of how the US Government had amended their copyright law to include provisions for the visually challenged. This has brought down the cost of conversion of printed material into accessible formats to Rs. 2,000 from a whooping Rs. 20,000. He also highlighted the fact that in a developing country like India, it is not feasible to spend Rs. 20,000 for conversion of just one copy.
Answering the question as to what steps the Daisy Forum of India is taking with respect to making accessible formats available to the print-impaired, Mr. Manocha responded by saying that the DFI has been negotiating a deal with Adobe Systems Inc. USA, provider of the .pdf format of e-books, to include an option to Save As Daisy format. Also, providing books in accessible formats at the same cost as that of its printed counterpart was one of the visions of DFI.
When asked by a member of audience if we can take the law in our hands and start uploading/using e-books from the internet, Mr. Manocha again pointed out that it is the duty and responsibility of the Indian govt. to provide equal opportunities to everybody. In case the government fails to do that, citizens can take measures that would help alleviate the pains caused. But such measures should be taken keeping in mind all the stakeholders involved. Large-scale usage of electronic forms of literature would affect the business of authors/publishers. Hurting publishers is never the intention of this campaign. Mr. Manocha, Mr. Vijaykumar and Prof. Sivaraman made it clear that a coordinated effort was required on the part of all the stake-holders viz. the government, the copyright owners (authors, publishers etc.), the persons with print impairment and the organizations representing them, as well as the general public. The amendments to the Copyright Act should take into consideration the interests of all stake holders.
When the floor was opened to questions, the participation from audience was overwhelming. Many of the questions were from print impaired persons in the audience who were students in colleges or represented a disability organization like the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) and so on. Due to paucity of time, the interactive question and answer session was restricted to half an hour post the panel discussion but the audience were invited to discuss further questions with the panelists after the session.
After some serious food-for-thought, the silence of the convention hall was broken by a musical performance rendered by a Music Band from NFB Chennai. The performance began by two singers rendering a song in praise of the Gods and then went on to lighter numbers like Jai Ho, from the movie Slumdog Millionaire and songs from some Tamil movies, which left the audience speechless.
Vote of Thanks
The volunteers from Loyola College presented the Vote of thanks to all the dignitaries and panelists on stage and also to the audience present in the function after which the National Anthem was played. Later, the guests and the audience proceeded for lunch.