Dinkar on Copyright Law and Its Importance in a Democracy

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Just a few days ago on September 23rd, India celebrated the birth anniversary of Ramdhari Singh Dinkar (1908-1974), one of India’s most famous Hindi language poets who has been awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award, Padma Bhushan and Bharatiya Jnanpith. A freedom fighter born in Bihar, Dinkar was also a Member of the Rajya Sabha for several terms.

I came across one of his speeches while researching for my book with Sumathi and I was amazed by his articulation of copyright law and its importance in a democracy. During the debates on the Copyright Bill, 1955 which had proposed radical changes to Indian copyright law that would make it incompatible with the Berne Convention, Dinkar led a band of authors to force the government to roll back the controversial provision. In the process, he gave a brilliant speech espousing the importance of copyright law in an independent democracy speaking about why, as a writer it was important for him to have a source of income that was independent of government control or patronage. Only then, according to him, would an author be creative and have the courage to criticize the state and society. For him the only way to get such an independent source of income was by copyright law since it secured his creation and allowed him to earn royalties. It is quite rare to hear such a line of argument in India. The standard line is – authors are starving, so let’s have copyright law. Or nowadays after the DU photocopy shop, the mood has turned decidedly hostile to copyrights for even educational material. To link copyright to the idea of liberty, dissent and democracy is thus novel and thought provoking. The rest of his speech is on the clauses that he was opposed to on various grounds including the fact that it would put India in violation of the Berne Convention. Those debates in the fifties were a delight to read and as I was explaining to my students the other day, highlights once again the importance of the author in the copyright narrative. It was Dinkar in the fifties and Akthar in 2012 who changed the direction of Indian copyright law despite not having the deepest of pockets. Such is the charisma of these authors and that is something the moneybags in the content creating industry should realize.

The original speech was made in Hindi by Dinkar and can be found on the Rajya Sabha website. I am reproducing a translated version below. Aparajita who was assisting us with the book at the time was kind enough to get the Hindi version translated into English by her father Goutam Lath, whom we thank for the same.

Do remember, this is only one of the speeches made by Dinkar during the time and was followed by a spirited rebuttal from Keshav Chand who slammed the authors for their position on copyright law. If you are interested in his other speeches they can be accessed on the beautifully indexed website of the Rajya Sabha. For the academics out there – those debates are a treasure trove of information on the history of Indian IP and Sumathi and I have only scraped the surface in our book. There is plenty of material available for those of you interested in a deep dive into the history of Indian IP.

Shri Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’ (Bihar) – Rajya Sabha, Debate on the Copyright Bill, 1955 (14 May, 1957)

Sir, when this bill was first presented in the house, then certain conditions in it were very scary and  when in the present copyright law, the period of copyright of writers was reduced to 25 years after death from 50 years after death, all the writers and writers’ organizations of the country were up in arms.  Almost all the newspapers condemned the bill. Almost all the cities had writers-meetings and all writers requested the government not to do this injustice to them.

P.E.N which is a very prestigious organization, all major writers and poets of the country are its members, protested against this bill forcefully. When there was a big uproar on this issue in the country, we discussed it in Sahitya Academy and some of us writers, and some members of parliament met Maulana Saheb. But this issue which looked so difficult, looked quite easy to resolve after meeting Maulana Saheb.

He didn’t even take two minutes to understand what the writers wanted and told us that we will form a committee and that will submit a small report to him after due deliberation. Based on the report we will keep the appropriate conditions. The same day a committee was formed which had Gujarati writer Joshi, Mama Saheb Warerkar, Mr. Humayun Kabir , Mr. Kriplani and late Mr. Lad. These gentlemen gave due attention to all the points of contention and based on our knowledge of copyright laws of other countries, we prepared a small list and sent it to Mr. Maulana. Based on these recommendations some amendments were made based and the bill now has a general acceptance in the country. There are a couple of problems in this bill but it is much better than before. My opinion is that this bill should be treated as salt and oil law. This is a very complex bill which will have wide ramifications. You can understand the importance of this bill by the fact that the select committee had 13 sessions in which many big literary institutions of the country, many people from outside the country came to give evidence and after a lot of thought the bill was amended. But since this bill is now in the house, I would like to draw the attention of the house towards one issue. As this bill affects writers, poets, cine workers, actors etc., there should be a serious discussion on this issue and the most important thing is that at the time of enacting such law, we would like to know from the government and the government should keep this in mind as to in which direction the country is headed. What will be the status of writers, poets, artists etc.

It’s only that a member of a party pushes for something and that gets done or another person from another party wants something and it gets accepted. This is not the thing. The whole thing is that what kind of India do we want to build. We suffer from this complex that a communist country has a better tradition. If this is so then I will say that this bill is of no use to us. This bill is for a democratic country and what the other gentleman was saying could be true because I have seen in communist countries the period of copyright is kept short. But do you know what is the result of this short duration, you go to any communist country, in a couple of days you will start feeling that the happiest people in that country are poets, dancers, writers, researchers and inventors, this is because the state gives them a lot of concessions. They find it difficult to know how to spend their money. Last time when there was a movement in Russia to introspect then they accused the authors that they had so much wealth that they were buying sea-side villas , leading a luxurious life and that they had lost connect with the people. In my opinion you cannot charge the writers of this country or for that matter any country of the world with this accusation.  Also you should see that a lot of writers of our country wish that we also had the similar situation as in a communist country. 25 years is a long time, the day our work is published, Dr. Shrimali should get the full control of it. We don’t need a single penny for it. What will we do with the copyright? We know that we should not be greedy. What did the authors of communist countries get ? They have physical comfort, lot of money and easy life, along with this relaxation in income tax. But what do they have to give away for all this ?  They have lost their freedom of expression they had to fall in line with the government’s thinking. Mr. Raja Goud is smiling he thinks I am exaggerating.  I ask you how many days have passed since the revolution, then why is it that  authors like Dostoevsky, Terziev, Djakovo, Tolstoy and Gorky have not been born in communism. They cannot be born again.

Dr. D.B. Gour – This could be said of all countries.

Dinkar – It is not possible for them to be born. Where the soul of a human being is not free to express, no true literature or poetry or art can take place. I will give you my own example. This is my experience, I was once in a communist country, I will not name it. I interacted with many authors there. I asked them about the regimentation that they had to go through, was there a “lakshman rekha” that they could not cross? Some of them were independent thinkers. In private discussions they openly admitted that during revolution they tried to mould our writings according to the government’s objectives and in our enthusiasm we actually did so. But not a single worker or any other citizen ever wanted to read that literature. Romantic poetry became very popular. Classics got a lot of publicity. Our government has taken the signal from all this and have relaxed the rules a bit and now we are getting back to the pattern of freedom in writing. Then we talked some more and they told me why the pattern needed to be changed. That is why I say, before we support or oppose this bill, we must clearly think whether we want the writers to be independent or dependent. It is necessary that in the socialist pattern that we are making for our country, the writers will not be ignored. But do you know the psyche of an author?

At this point the government has done nothing for the authors. A few have got jobs in radio or in publicity departments of some state governments. Some are in education department and by chance after jumping through many windows a few of us are in parliament. As a result in the literary world “government writers” are having a field day. Although I know this is not the truth. I know a couple of writers who are working in AIR and I also see that though they are in government service– they cannot be called servants, but they work for the government and also criticize the government and there is no action from the government side. This is a very good thing.  This shows that the government is not going to interfere. But, the movement that is going on in the country raises a doubt that if the writer does not keep his self respect and depends totally on the government, then his condition will also be that of a regimented writer. His independent thinking will be affected and gradually he will loose his freshness, he will not have that spark which the establishment does not like. So if we are serious about democracy in the state then the first thing on our agenda should be to give autonomy to writers and publications. They should be allowed to criticize anybody legitimately and unmask the deeds of anybody. This will enhance our democratic values. If on the one hand we dilute the copyright laws and on the other hand give them government patronage, this will amount to buying the talent. People have died for the reason of money in the world, this country’s writers will also prefer to drown themselves in the sea rather than accept being slaves of the state. There is not much respect in serving others, I do not agree with this idea even though many may vociferously propound this idea. I have seen the literature of regimented countries. There is nothing worthwhile. The voice of the free soul is missing. So we the people of India, why should we get into all this? This is a democratic government, we all want democratic values in our country so it is important that the this law should enable the writers to have utmost freedom. The most important freedom is the financial freedom, nothing else.

Honourable minister had just mentioned that a judge in his judgement in America had said the books are dependent on the public hence the author cannot have a sole right over them. I do not know whether he is right or wrong. Whatever it is I am quite perplexed by it. We build a house and give it out on rent to someone else, but the house is always ours. We get the farming done on our land, but the land remains ours. Everyone buys the cloth but textile mill remains with the owner but an author’s book is a thorn in the eyes. How many writers are like Pundit Nehru or Dr. Radhakrishnan? But there are lacs of writers who leave nothing behind after their death. They cannot even get enough to eat from their writings. They wear a nice dhoti, have a cup of tea with a cigarette this is their creative habit. They live this kind of creative life. What can I say, I don’t want to say much, author of over 150 plays, Mama Saheb is sitting here. He was telling me that he had suffered a lot, he felt really free the first time when he came to the parliament. It is a shame to us as nation when an author who has written 150 plays and each one of them has been staged, everyone knows about them, they are not hidden from public, has to lead a miserable life. Let’s forget it let’s not get emotional. Lets get to the root of the issue. As I just said that we met Mr. Maulana and made our case to him, he accepted most of our suggestions, he is a very kind man. He did not take even a minute to accept. But one thing has been left out, that is the issue of translation. There are two opinions on translation. One view is that if we do not free the translation, then we will not have a free flow of literature in our country. This has some weight, we cannot ignore it. Another viewpoint is what is wrong if the writer gets some money from translation. I will give you an example, as per today’s law which is continuing from the days of British, the author enjoys the right on translation only for 10 years from publication. What was the result of it ? When Sharat Chandra became famous, his books were widely translated in Hindi, upto 50000 copies were published and sold but Sharat Chandra did not get a single penny out of it, only the publishers had a field day because the law was in their favour. Even Gurudev Rabindranath was in the same boat. His books were translated and published in Hindi during his lifetime. Hindi publishing is a big market, everything sells a lot in Hindi. Gurudev’s books kept selling without any restriction.

What is really sad is that Gurudev did not want his poetries to be translated into other languages as he felt that justice cannot be done to his verse in any other language. Maybe he wanted to get this work done himself later but his wish was not fulfilled. He saw his works getting translated in various languages during his lifetime. What do we learn from all this ? We should learn that keeping financial aspect aside, the government should make sure that respecting the sentiment of the author, if he does not want his/her works to be translated, it should not be done. He should have the right over translation for his entire life, no one should be allowed to translate his works independently.  And if you really see, clause 30 of this bill can force an author to let his work broadcast or his play staged even against his wish. Here also we have put a safeguard for the author to keep his work to himself if he so wishes. In the same way I think the right of translation should also be with the author for life.

Now if I say that the right to translate can be given to anybody after the death of the author then it will not hurt the small writers but the renowned and famous ones can be poisoned for benefit. Who knows which publisher is waiting to reap the benefit of his works after his death. This can happen and that is why I have proposed an amendment the right to translate should stay with the author till he lives and it should continue for 10 years after his death. But I have seen the amendment given by Mr. Sinha, who is sitting here. It appears that he has done so after considering all the difficulties of the government and public opinion etc. The license that he has proposed needs the author’s approval and also compensates him financially. So if the government accepts this then we will withdraw our amendment. Otherwise we consider our amendment to be very appropriate.

There are a couple of other small things. As per law, as stated by Mr. Sinha, I also believe that to some extent we have committed ourselves to the signing of Berne Convention. There are only four countries in this convention where the period of translation is 10 years, they are Greece, Thailand, Ireland and Japan. But I think when the copyright laws in these countries are amended, they will have to fall in line with the Berne Convention as this convention is primarily concerned with translation between countries. If we do not follow this primary concern then we cannot remain as members of this convention.

Another thing is as we are discussing the amendment to copyright law in our country, British parliament is also getting ready to do so and they have not rushed into it. We have also not rushed into it. I remember that Mr. Biswas had first come with this proposal of Berne Convention in this house. That time we had said that copyright law should be amended and the department of education had assured us that it will be done quickly. After due preparations the bill is before us now. We also did not rush into this. In 1952 British constituted a parliament committee on copyright. They have also recommended that they must not go against the Berne Convention in any which way. So all the difference which exist in Britain are soon going to get removed.

Then it is also possible to get our works translated into foreign language as we do not have any law against it. What we have done is that we have not kept any restriction on translation from one Indian language to another. After 10 years it will not be possible to take advantage of translation.

There are two or three small points. One is that in section 51 the kind of works not covered under copyright is listed. I want to draw your attention to one thing and that is about the textbook. Books that are printed in Britain or those British companies which work in India, in their books you must have noticed that they have a page for acknowledgements, where they thank the people who would have helped them in the writing of the book. But none of our publishers think that it is important to do so. You can check this in any textbook of your children.  There is no need to ask anyone. We already have an existing law, which says that there is no violation of copyright law for two passages used in textbooks. As a result, they may take a passage of 25 pages, another passage of 10 pages, total 35 pages…. I do not want to elaborate further. Last time when I went to the select committee, I took some examples where ten to twenty pages from articles were used taking protection under two passage rule. I think this issue should not be left to the board. When the copyright board is constituted it will enlist writers and I am of the view that some rules should be clearly defined like maximum 10 or 20 lines can be used without infringing the law, so that people understand that they do not have the right to loot. When a weaver weaves a yard of any fabric he is free to sell it or give it to his daughter. But when Mama Saheb creates a play and that becomes the property of the world. This indeed is very shameful. We have to protect authors from these situations. This is a big loot. I think even if Rs.250/- per passage is paid to the writers, it will help the writers who have grown old.

Second thing is about registration. When the paper was sent to us the governor of Bihar in a letter to Mr. Maulana had mentioned that the authors will be upset with this issue. The minister then said that it will not be compulsory but will be optional. I really do not know whether it will be optional. Optional would mean those writers who get registration done will use the board to their benefit. Those who do not register will have to go to civil court or take some other route. My wish was to have such a system where the registration would be automatic. When any book is with the copyright board it should get registered. Another difficulty I foresee is that it will be easy for the writers from cities to register but the rural writers will suffer. All authors are highly impractical. The more practical he becomes, the less creative he gets. So who will make him practical, will we be able to do all this for him? Sitting here we can easily say that we will keep Rs.5/- as registration fee, surely the writers will have this money. How do I make you understand, there is a lot of poverty in the country and sitting here in prosperous Delhi we cannot really understand the depth and extent of poverty. It’s same as not knowing how deep will be the fall when you are travelling on road in Kashmir. So it is difficult. Writers of this poor country are disabled are suffering a lot and this will increase their difficulties. I think the governor of Bihar did the right thing in bringing this out in from of Maulana Saheb.


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