The global venue for World Book and Copyright Day changes annually, and while this year’s celebrations are in Athens and the theme is ‘Reading is my right’; we’ll take a look at writers’ rights here in India.
According to Intellectual Property India, The Copyright Act of 1957 covers anything patented and copyrighted, but implementing the law to individual needs requires a lot of legal pursuits. The concept of intellectual property is an ever-changing one and the rapid globalisation of the creative industry often blurs lines. As per the Act, the author not only gets right to the authorship but also gets right under which without his prior permission his work cannot be amended. Any amendment which is done against his will can be brought into the court by the author, and he can get an order to recover any kind of damages and stop such act immediately.
For those curious, according to the Government’s Copyright Office, the application cost of getting a writer’s work copyrighted starts at ₹500 while amendments can start at ₹200.
“The biggest challenge that faces writers today is making sure that they get their work registered with the Copyright Office,” Sharvani Pandit, an Editor at Red Ink Literary Agency, points out, “It comes in handy for first-time writers as well as those whose work, story or idea is yet to be published, but they are in talks with film studios. If for some reason talks fall through and his or her idea is used by the same production house, the writer with a copyright can seek redressal in court. Also, most author/agency and author/publisher dealings come under the IPR Act and confidentiality clauses.” Publishing houses often vet the material for legally objectionable material and the author can derive a measure of solace from the fact that if there are any legal battles to be fought, the universal idea of teamwork can be counted upon.
Author Anuja Chandramouli has been through the dredges of it all. Lost in the dream of wanting to be a writer, she shares that the legalese of it all went over her head. “I chose to get lost in the euphoria of realising the great dream of being a published author and merely skimmed over the particulars of the contract with the publisher, deeming it sufficient that the copyright of the work will remain with the proprietor (me) and the publishers undertake that the name of said proprietor shall appear on the title page and on the cover of every copy of the work published. Rather belatedly, I became aware that there are plenty of complicated legal issues to be taken into account when it comes to protecting your own work and making a semi-decent income that is less likely to make you want to kill yourself, while avoiding getting sued to within an inch of your life.”
Sharvani states there’s a constant onslaught of issues to examine — which can be tough given they require a lot of energy and thought. She shares that being an editor gives a rather multidimensional look at the industry, which helps her make informed decisions about issues concerning her. “Authors are so eager to be published that they never really pay attention to the contracts that they sign with their publishers, and hence do not realise the rights they are giving away. The author's core earning comes from rights sold. It is all about the rights to various markets. Every right or contract is money made by the author, depending on the deal, whether it is English (even this can be broken up in multiple ways), languages — each is a separate right, audio, ePub, TV or films. With the industry and media changing so rapidly, over the years I have learnt that it is all about how well a right can be negotiated. But at the end of the day, it depends on the author and his urgency to be published. But there is more awareness now regarding the fact that authors can get good sums of money as well. And, most of them want that.”
Given all of this, navigating a contentious industry can be taxing. However Anuja, who commends her teachers for their collective wisdom, explains, that the priority is to be pertinacious, and always stand up for your rights and believe in yourself. She adds, “Creative people have a gift and it is tragic that — despite being the backbone of glamorous, high paying institutions like film and television — writers don’t get their due. Yet, the world needs dreamers, wordsmiths and those who can use the power of words to make the world a better place. Nobody can take this away from us, and if we persevere even as we perfect our craft, there is no limit to what can be achieved by those of us who have sworn allegiance to the mighty pen or MS Word.”
So if you’re thinking of penning a pageturner, be aware of the ins and outs of copyright and otherwise.