Towards stronger Copyright in the digital environment

On 4 July, India agreed to sign up to the WIPO Copyright Treaty, 1996 (WCT) and WIPO Performers and Phonograms Treaty, 1996 (WPPT) (See). These two treaties essentially offer copyright owners added protection in the internet and digital environment. The accession is reportedly taking forward objectives of the National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Policy adopted by the Indian Government in 2016, to improve commercialization of IPRs by providing guidance and support to IP owners about commercial opportunities of e-commerce through Internet and mobile platforms.


About the treaties

The WCT is a treaty that falls under the Berne Convention. It specifically sets out a framework for the protection of authors’ rights in the digital environment and also makes the protection of computer programs and databases mandatory. The WPPT pertains to the rights of performers and producers of phonograms. It protects, specifically in a digital environment, the rights of actors, musicians, singers and producers of soundtracks.

According to the Government of India, these treaties help in the following ways:

  1. Monetary Benefits: Enable creative right-holders enjoy the fruit of their labour, through international copyright system that can be used to secure a return on the investment made in producing and distributing creative works;
  2. International protection to domestic creators:Facilitate international protection of domestic rights holder by providing them level-playing field in other countries as India already extends protection to foreign works through the International Copyright order and these treaties will enable Indian right holders to get reciprocal protection abroad;
  3. Establish trust in Investors: Instill confidence and distribute creative works in digital environment with return on investment;
  4. Economic rights in Digital Domain: Produce and distribute creative works in digital environment with return on investment; and
  5. Business and Cultural impact: Spur business growth and contribute to the development of a vibrant creative economy and Background:



The Copyright Act, 1957 was amended in 2012 to bring it in conformity, with WCT and WPPT, includes amendment in definition of “Communication to the public” to make it applicable to digital environment (Section 2(ff)) as also introduced provisions related to Technological Protection Measures (Section 65A) & Rights Management Information (Section 65B); Moral rights of performers (Section 38B); Exclusive rights of the performers (Section 38A); safe harbour provisions over electronic medium (Section 52 (1) (b) and (c)).

WCT came in force on March 6, 2002 and has been adopted by 96 contracting parties till date and is a Special agreement under Berne Convention (for protection of literary and artistic works), which deals with the protection of works and the rights of their authors in the digital environment. Besides rights already recognized by the Berne Convention, they are granted certain economic rights.  The Treaty also specifically deals with two subject matters to be protected by copyright: (i) computer programs, whatever the mode or form of their expression; and (ii) compilations of data or other material (“databases”). (See) Further, it recognises the rights specific to digital environment, of making work available, to address “on-demand” and other interactive modes of access.

WPPT came in force on May 20, 2002 and has 96 contracting parties as its members. WPPT deals with rights of two kinds of beneficiaries, particularly in digital environment – (i) Performers (actors, singers, musicians etc.) (ii) Producers of Phonograms (Sound recordings). The treaty empowers right owners in their negotiations with new digital platforms and distributors. It recognizes moral rights of the performers and provides exclusive economic rights to them.

Both the treaties provide a framework for creators and rights owners to use technical tools to protect their works and safeguard information about their use i.e. Protection of Technological Protection Measures (TPMs) and Rights Management Information (RMI). TPMs include methods such as encryption and other mechanisms to control unauthorised copying, transmission and use of their products. Rights management information (RMI) is a type of digital rights management tool that helps identify copyright-protected content, its rights owners, and the terms and conditions of use associated with it.