In what is probably a first among established writers in India, K Satchidanandan, a renowned poet from Kerala, has made one of his major collections, Theranjedutha Kavithakal (Selected Poems, 1965-1998), copyright free.
The electronic version of Satchidanandan’s book is published by Sayahna Foundation and was recently made free under the Creative Commons Licence. Anybody is now free to use and distribute its modified versions. The same free access has to be preserved in the modified versions as well. In the foreword to the ebook, Satchidanandan imagines a world without copyrights or patents.
‘I have been following the Free Software and Commons movement and subscribe to the view that knowledge, art and culture are the common property of all human beings. I wanted to set an example, however modest, by making at least one of my most cherished collections of poetry accessible to all readers without any price,’ he says.
He hopes to make all his works copyright free but there are legal hurdles. “I cannot do this just now as many of my books are in print and I have a contract with their publishers. My making them copyright free will be illegal and a breach of contract and trust,” he says.
Satchidanandan might be pioneering this in India but abroad, there are many examples. Slavoj Zizek, a renowned philosopher and cultural critic, has made many of his works available for free online. One of the reasons for this practice was the apprehension of books going out of print and only being available online, making them inaccessible to those not familiar with the internet. Whether making books copyright free can change that is still a question mark. “If a publisher is ready to print my books free of cost, or even on a no-loss no-profit basis, that would have been a solution. But where am I to find someone who would invest in a losing business?” he asks. He hopes more writers will follow his example. “This is not a great sacrifice if their livelihood does not depend on their works. And also when we consider that copyright ceases after 50 years of the author’s demise anyway,” he says.