Starting off on this project to map the contours of the copyright issues that impact upon theatre practice, I asked a lawyer friend his opinion. ‘You may set the cat among the pigeons!’ he chortled. ‘But is your book for or against the copyright regime?’ he queried, more seriously.
For or against copyright? I realized at once that this will be a primary question in the minds of most readers, following closely on the heels of ‘So what is copyright, anyway?’
This project was taken up based on feedback received at the Not the Drama Seminar organized by the India Theatre Forum (ITF), at Ninasam, Heggodu, in March 2008. Earlier, Sudhanva Deshpande’s discussion with Prabir Purkayastha on the idea of a script archive on the ITF website had led to Prabir’s talk on Creative Commons at the seminar.
The Core Team that presently takes responsibility for the India Theatre Forum (ITF), took on certain projects based on needs expressed by the theatre community. The ITF is a loose collective of the theatre practitioners coming together to reflect on and toimprove theatre practice in India.
K.V.Akshara is working on “Kala Kalyana”, an insurance cum pension policy for artists; Sameera Iyengar has erected the ITF website which is designed to cater to the needs of connectivity and networking; Sanjna Kapoor has launched “Theatre Arts” a management initiative and Sudhanva Deshpande is responsible for starting a script archive.
While making scripts available to the theatre community, we have to keep in mind the welfare of the playwrights. Probir Purkayastha, who made a presentation on Creative Commons at the NDTS, suggested this approach to Sudhanva Deshpande. This project was born out of the necessity to understand the concept of Copyrights and Commons.
Soon after I took on this responsibility, incidents reported from around the country made us realize that the theatre fraternity was sorely misinformed on this issue. A simple handbook, the Core Team felt, would be of great help. Ashish Rajadhakshya, who was present at our first meeting on the project shared his view and extended the support of Shri Ratan Tata Trust for the process and publication.
Over two years, the ITF conducted limited surveys among theatre practitioners and playwrights on theatre practices around the country. They also collected stories arising out of copyright conflict in the theatre community. I worked simultaneously with several lawyers to collate this material, make sense of it, relate it to the relevant copyright laws and also look at the international treaties that India is a signatory to.
The findings were shared with the Core Team. Over emails and several meetings, the feedback and discussions grappled with issues of cultures, ethics and law as well as findings on actual praxis on the ground.
The ITF organized a forum for playwrights, theatre practitioners and lawyers in Delhi in 2009.
These issues and findings were discussed and other stories and concerns emerged. Our invited experts presented perspectives on the practice of theatre in this country and on the motives that led to the framing of copyright laws. The idea of commons and sharing in creative practice was also discussed. The idea for an online script archive was presented to the playwrights. Quite a few practitioners present, candidly and unabashedly, professed total ignorance of the copyright laws. Unanimous opinion was expressed that a handbook on copyright laws with guidelines for best practices would be most useful.
Along with the Core Team members already mentioned, I have to thank Moloyashree Hashmi, not only for her valuable suggestions and also for shouldering responsibility for this forum. I express my gratitude also to Choiti Ghosh and Saurabh Nayyar, the administrative staff of the ITF whose untiring efforts through the process have helped it come to fruition.
This, then, is a collection of copyright stories and situations. Many are from India and the theatre community. Some are also from other related arts and other countries. While most stories are real, with or without name changes, some stories are hypothetical.
The stories are meant to illustrate points of law. The cases presented are not exhaustive and are not meant to replace legal advice. This book is therefore in that sense ‘work in progress’ and is only a beginning of what we hope to be a much more comprehensive compendium through further editions.
For the ease of reading, the stories are abbreviated with parts of the conflict phrased as dialogue. Some of the intra-text is brought out through sketches.
A list of FAQs and glossary should see the reader better equipped to deal with copyright decisions required in the practice of theatre.
Copyright is part of the legal environment we live in and we can be for or against it as much as we can be for or against the wind that blows. From what I have learnt though, there are some very hi-tech cats already out there on the net and as for pigeons; have you noticed how sparrows, sunbirds and mynahs have all but disappeared from our cities?
Project Co-ordinator and Editor