Are laws covered by copyright?

The simple answer is yes. Under the Copyright Act, 1957, the government, and the government alone, can print its laws and issue copies of them.  If, for instance, a person, takes a copy of an Act, and puts it up on their website for others to download, it's technically a violation of copyright. The only way any person can do so, without infringing copyright, is to 'value-add' to the text of the Act, by say, adding their own commentary or notes. But simply reproducing the entire text of the Act, without comment, is an infringement of the copyright. Section 52 (1)(q) of the copyright Act, which covers 'fair use' of a copyrighted work says the following: 52 (1) The following acts shall not constitute an infringement of copyright, namely: (q) the reproduction or publication of- (i) any matter which has been published in any Official Gazette except an Act of a Legislature; (ii) any Act of a Legislature subject to the condition that such Act is reproduced or published together with any commentary thereon or any other original matter; (iii) the report of any committee, commission, council, board or other like body appointed by the Government if such report has been laid on the Table of the Legislature, unless the reproduction or publication of such report is prohibited by the Government; (iv) any judgement or order of a court, tribunal or other judicial authority, unless the reproduction or publication of such judgment or order is prohibited by the court, the tribunal or other judicial authority, as the case may be; So the text of an Act is copyrighted, but the rules produced under it, and published in the Gazette are not. This is odd, to put it politely. Why should the text of a law, one of the basic building blocks of  a modern state, not be freely available to anyone, without cost? (Even if you can make an argument that laws should be covered by copyright, shouldnt that copyright rest with Parliament, which 'creates' laws, rather than the government?) The Parliament Standing Committee on Human Resource Development is currently studying the Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 2010, which has already achieved a certain amount of fame, for the changes it makes to the rights of lyricists and music composers.  But perhaps the Committee should also consider recommending an amendment to 52(1) of the Copyright Act, allowing not just laws, but all works funded by the government, and by extension the taxpayer, to be freely available to all.

Comments

Vamsi's picture

Yes, All the laws should be freely available to everybody.A creative common license like should be given to the laws, where one can freely distribute them.
bagdu's picture

Not only freely, government should be bound by law to publish all laws,rules and regulations in open digital form at all levels right from a municipality all the way upto President's office. If the citizens are not aware of the laws, how are they supposed to abide by them and given that there are so many of them,this exercise will accelerate their cleanup through extensive scrutiny. This will be the best return on investment among all the activities that Government of India performs(or not).
Karthik's picture

If keeping the laws for download is an infringement of copyright, does this initiative of PRS http://www.lawsofindia.org/ violate the Copyright Act ?

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