Happy World Book and Copyright Day!

From my abode of a year and  a half (Gelman Library’s top floor), I wish all readers a very happy world book and copyright day! Not only are books a man’s closest companion but as Shakespeare puts it, “a force to counter the common curse of mankind – folly and ignorance“. The World Book and Copyright Day is celebrated by UNESCO to commemorate Shakespeare’s death anniversary and to promote the culture of reading, publishing and copyright.

This phrase, ” the culture of reading, publishing and copyright” poses an interesting quandary. The quandary being the jurisprudence of copyright protection. Between 1589 and 1613, when Shakespeare produced his seminal literary works, there was no form of copyright regulation in England. Nevertheless, the Bard of Avon was undeterred to pen his thoughts.  It was only after many years of his death, that the first IP legislation – the Licensing of the Press Act, 1662 was enacted in England. Even then, it was only in 1710 with the passage of the Statute of Anne by the British Parliament that copyright protection was conferred to literary works. Hence, testifying that copyright was not necessarily an incentive for creative expression, for one of the greatest English writers flourished in absentia of a copyright regime.

Books Shelf

 Image Courtesy : RadioLab

Infact, just last night over dinner I was asked about the copyrightability of certain English works. My father’s dear friend – Mark Turner has a quaint hobby of collecting Regency charades (a form of rhyming riddles) and subsequently blogging about it. Due to their antiquity, locating original versions was not only difficult but extremely expensive. However, he was successful in procuring their reprints from various sources and is perhaps one of the handful owners in the world of such a Collection.

He asked me if he was violating copyright law, even though it was purely a non – commercial activity. Considering that these charades were written during the Regency period, which ran roughly from 1776 through the 1830’s, they were copyrightable subject matter under the Statute of Anne (which was enacted in 1710).  He breathed a sigh of relief on being told by me that he need not worry. All these works had fallen into public domain and could be used without seeking permission of their authors. Another interesting thing about these riddles is that majority of them were penned under a pseudonym. Had these works not fallen into public domain, a bigger issue of orphan works had to be combated. (On a side note, try guessing some of these riddles. Apart from being fun, they’re a good exercise for the gray cells!)

On the World Copyright Day, I want to highlight this year’s two noteworthy copyright developments  at the domestic and international front –

(i) The transfer of the Indian Copyright Office from the Ministry of Human Resources and Development to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion. I’ve written about this here.

(ii) A very critical time for the WIPO Broadcasters Treaty (The Treaty) : The 47th WIPO General Assembly ended in a political stalemate over several issues on the impeding WIPO Broadcasters Treaty. In the upcoming WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), if the national governments do not explicitly come out in support of the Treaty, it could spell doom and perhaps mark the end of a road map for an international legal framework for protection of broadcasting organizations.


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