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PERFECT SEMBLANCE, IMPERFECT LAW
BOOK WISE

The copyright law has encountered a strange trouble that many seasoned publishers are unable to solve. The progress in printing technology and communications have facilitated illegal duplication and dissemination of textual material without making any acknowledgement of, or payment to, authors. Every office, school and library has its own photocopier now. The number of tradesmen making a huge profit by reproducing articles, chapters from a book and even the entire book is also very high. The irony lies in the fact that the concept of the photocopier was based on the printing machine, the core of the print industry. But this technologically superior avatar of the printing machine has now become an enemy of the copyright law that the print industry had given birth to. Moreover, the internet has been making duplication of texts easier by the day. In fact, the digital copy of the text remains as perfect as the original one.

The copyright law was created to protect authors, who, with very few exceptions, are entitled to have protection against plagiarism or illegal use of their works through their lifetime and for the following 60 years. But there are two loopholes. First, this legal protection does not extend to ideas, titles and facts presented in the texts; this prevents the plagiarism of only words and expressions. Second, it is not illegal if texts are copied only for promoting ‘education, economic growth and civilization’ and not for commercial profit. Quotations and citations from reference works can be freely used (with certain limitations, of course) after taking permission from the copyright holders and acknowledging them.

But the copyright law is also very easy to break because its clauses have not been upgraded in keeping with technological progress. Both publishers and authors, the most affected ones by such violations, are aware of the legal infirmities. They also know that some 300 billion illegally reproduced copies are already floating around and most are meant for commercial use. So, how can the interest of authors and publishers be protected from illegal duplication of texts? Should the traditional ideas of copyright be abandoned, or should the current law be tightened? The vastness of cyberspace and the widespread use of photocopiers make monitoring difficult. So how can this law be implemented?

It is particularly tough to exert the legal stipulations here because intellectual property rights are not paid due respect by a large section of readers in the country; the general impression is that once a book is printed, it enters the public domain and people are free to make use of it in any form that suits them.

Clearly, there are several constraints. But one thing that can be done to minimize illegal duplication is to implement a ban on the photocopying of books, especially scientific and technical ones, from cover to cover, for commercial purposes.

The photocopying of entire books is now openly done at several shops. It is as same as the piracy trade that was earlier run secretly by small presses in North India. A reason why the problem of making copies of the whole book persists despite legal prohibition is that the books are duplicated by twos and threes and often on the customer’s insistence. It is difficult for any publisher to move court even if the guilty are caught because there is no proof that the photocopies were made for monetary profit.

Of course, another solution is to make original books cheaper. But that’s too much to ask for.

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