Intellectual Property issues in State Board textbooks
Updated: Sep 1
Despite the fact that education has the potential to be a substantial leveler of disparities, the epidemic has brought the digital divide and rising socio-economic inequalities in India into sharp focus. There have been several recorded examples of students committing suicide as a result of a lack of access to educational resources recently. According to estimates, just around a quarter of Indian families have access to the internet. In rural areas, this rate drops to 15%. The marginalized, rural, and underprivileged populations have been impacted the hardest, as has been the case in the past.
Governments role as Publisher and Copyright Owner
The government's engagement in publishing has a long history of expanding public access to knowledge. The government founded the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in 1961. All of India's states had created their own (state) textbook boards by the late 1960s. The National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) developed model textbooks for schools that were published and adopted by state textbook boards. This marked the start of a new trend in the publishing industry in the country, which had traditionally been controlled by private publishers.
Because of the government's function as a publisher, it may be able to set low pricing and disseminate broadly. This goal of making education more accessible has now been formalized as the Right to Education, which has been recognized by the Supreme Court and established by a constitutional amendment.
This effort is exemplified by the nationalization of textbooks by State Government Boards and thereafter by the Central Government through the NCERT. These initiatives were driven by external interest goals, as R.R. Diwakar pointed out to Bhopinder Singh Man during the Constituent Assembly Debates [(Legislative), 15 December 1949], and thus were reliant on government support, and many were meant to recoup costs for publishing and distribution for their subsistence.
Government works whose major goal for development is public dissemination do not benefit from incentives that reward knowledge generation and creative effort by maximizing commercial profit through exclusive rights.
Even commercialized re-use of these textbooks (with appropriate pricing laws to maintain affordability for students) will stimulate increased public involvement with educational information, as Vishal Rakhecha points out. Printed copies, alterations, or additional content in publications would only increase the reach of these works. Local publishers can provide these publications at lower prices and cut distribution costs if they are not paid high royalties or license fees. Furthermore, scanning and uploading books to archives such as the Internet Archive, which enables optical character recognition, allows for increased discoverability via search engines and greater accessibility.
Despite increased access to the internet and cellphones, India's availability of textbooks has not progressed sufficiently. According to the findings of the Annual State of Education Report (ASER) survey conducted in September 2020 (covering 52,227 rural households with school-aged children in 30 states and union territories), approximately 20% of rural children in the United States do not have access to textbooks at home. Smartphone ownership among rural households with school-aged children has increased from 36% in 2018 to 62 percent in 2020.
Copyright Policies that Impede Access
Many state governments' copyright rules impede the very access that the State Boards producing textbooks were supposed to encourage. For example, the Maharashtra State Bureau of Textbook Production and Curriculum Research (BalbharatiCopyright)'s Policy prescribes licenses for limited use of its copyrighted material, while precluding Authorized Users (publishers, educational institutions, tutors, etc.) from making sound/visual recordings of its content for manufacturing, dispersal, sale, and otherwise, unless expressly permitted. [Balbharati Copyright Policy, Section 2.1(vii)].
In addition, according to the most recent version of this policy, Balbharati has decided to charge private publishers (new applicants) INR 17,700 for new registrations and INR 11,800 for renewals, as compared to the previous registration price of INR 1000. [Balbharati Copyright Policy, Sections 2.2(iv) and (v)]
Because Balbharati primarily produces books in Marathi and English, the increase in registration fees drove small publishers out of the market, particularly those that published regional language textbooks. Not just small-scale regional publishers, but also students pursuing junior college degrees in other languages, suffered as a result of this.
Furthermore, in accordance with the most recent version of this policy, Balbharati has chosen to charge private publishers (new applicants) INR 17,700 for new registrations and INR 11,800 for renewals, as opposed to the former registration price of INR 1000. [Sections 2.2(iv) and (v) of the Balbharati Copyright Policy].
The increase in registration fees forced small publishers out of the market, particularly those who published regional language textbooks because Balbharati predominantly produces books in Marathi and English. This harmed not only small-scale regional publishers but also students pursuing junior college degrees in various languages. The Karnataka Department of State Educational Research and Training's Karnataka Open Educational Resources project, in contrast to the Balbharati Policy, makes its material available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license. Despite the fact that the website hosts a small number of books, the books that are posted are complete, unlike NCERT's National Repository of Open Educational Resources, which has numerous chapters missing from the books that are hosted online.
However, copyright policies are inconsistent across state boards. As owners of ‘government works' under Sections 2k and 17(dd) of the Copyright Act, the Boards shall assess all of their works to determine production costs and revenue. They should then determine the creative commons license under which they can make their works available, keeping in mind their public function. These publications can be made available to the public, notably as e-books on the internet, under Creative Commons (CC) licenses, which allow for re-use and modification of these works for both non-commercial and commercial uses.
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