Friday, January 16, 2009

Should Copyrights be Extended?

Mahatma Gandhi's work finally entered the public domain at the beginning of this year. The question of whether the copyright would be extended arose and this question has raised a debate. This blog post is about one such debate we found on the Spicy IP blog.

The holders of the copyright, Navajivan Trust have decided not to ask for an extension of the copyright.

“If you consider the spirit of Gandhian thought, one should not ask for such extension. And we have considered his issue and we are not going to ask for such extension,” said Jitendra Desai, Managing Trustee, Navajivan Trust, Ahmedabad."Gandhiji never supported the idea of copyright. But due to some instances, where his thoughts were misinterpreted, he was forced to give into the insistence of his well wishers urging him to get his works copyrighted. So he decided to entrust the copyright of his works with Navajivan Trust, which was started by him." recalled Amrut Modi, managing trustee of the Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust.

Unfazed by the expiration of copyright, managing trustee Jitendra Desai reasons: “Even in profiteering, they would propagate Gandhian thought.” However, some Gandhians have expressed their concerns over the removal of the protection, stating that it would lead to the literature being misinterpreted and spread. This concern arises out of the worry that ‘text-torturing’ will take place, i.e., his text and message will get distorted when reproduced by independent sources. Some Gandhians are also worried that the end of the copyright period will lead to prices of the works shooting up.

Are these worries misplaced? Or should authors such as Gandhi (‘famous authors’?) be entitled to longer protection?

The end of Rabindranath Tagore’s copyright period saw a mad publication rush including of course, some low grade publications. According to the Vishwa-Bharathi University, which held the copyrights, one of the main reasons for seeking an extension was that otherwise there was no control over what the public reads and the quality of the work being produced. However, according to Badal Basu, from one of Kolkata’s largest publishing houses, it also saw the opening of new avenues for many publishers across the country, with many of the publications coming forward with innovative adaptations of Tagore’s works which not only added to revenue, but also created a wider clientele.

When faced with the argument of the ‘purity’ of the works being lost, officials pointed out the example of William Shakespeare’s works which have not been sullied by being the public domain for so long. Stressing on the readers’ benefit from the non-renewal, an official pointed out, “There is a simple market mechanism that works. If OUP can bring out better editions of Tagore’s works, why should the reader be deprived?”

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