Over the years, fast developing technologies have positively impacted the academic world in numerous ways. Today, accessibility to a plethora of information is easier than ever. However, this accessibility due to technological advancements have also opened a pandora's box of inaccurate and erroneous information that are made available on various academic and non-academic platforms. Hence, it is imperative to disseminate information that is accurate and is thoroughly researched. This is where academic research comes into play. In a broad sense, academic research can be defined as the process of investigating a question at hand or a scenario in a systematic manner with the help of pre-existing research methodologies. Academic research plays a crucial role in almost every industry since it encourages researchers to study and brainstorm solutions for a problem that affects that particular industry, thus, filling gaps in knowledge that already exists. Moreover, good academic research is important for the production of well-written and thorough textbooks that can be used for academic purposes. In sum, academics and research are closely connected and one complements the other.
Copyrights in the realm of academics and research is an area that is minimally explored by Indian laws. This is primarily because education and education related products were never really considered as a commercial commodity in India. Rather, it was seen as a medium to impart education. However, times have drastically changed. Today, the internet acts as a breeding ground for plagiarism, duplication and other acts that are a blatant breach of academic and publication ethics. The essence of copyright law is to protect, recognize and up to an extent, commercially exploit the work produced by a creator. In an academic context, copyright law would facilitate the recognition and commercial exploitation of academic works. This may be achieved through the economic rights and moral rights that are protected through the act. Legally protecting one's academic work can reduce the possibilities of illegal duplication and plagiarism related activities. Copyright protection may also expedite the legal actions taken against those who may commit unethical research practices. I will now explore two areas in academics and research wherein copyright law may subsist:
Fair use doctrine in the context of academics:
The fair use doctrine permits the use of copyrighted material on a limited level without having to take the prior consent from the copyright owner. This use without the prior consent of the copyright owner will not lead to copyright infringement. The fair use doctrine is derived from the 'Doctrine of Equity' which permits the reproduction of copyrighted works. Generally, the fair use doctrine comes into the picture when any copyrighted work is used for academic activities that eventually benefits the society. The fair use doctrine also facilitates the accessibility of good quality academic resources. In Indian copyright laws, there are no strict metrics as to the extent up to which an academic work can be used for educational purposes under the pretext of fair dealing. In a landmark judgement, Hubbard v. Vosper, Lord Denning quoted that:
"It is impossible to define what is "fair dealing". It must be a question of degree. You must first consider the number and extent of the quotations and extracts.... then you must consider the use made of them.... Next, you must consider the proportions...other considerations may come into mind also. But, after all is said and done, it is a matter of impression."
In the Copyright Act, 1957, section 52 deals with fair dealing. Section 52(1)(h) states that it is permissible for a teacher or a pupil to reproduce any copyrighted work in order to include it in a question (that is to be answered in an examination) or for academic instructional purposes. Similarly, section 52(1)(g) stipulates that if a copyrighted work is published with a bonafide ('in good faith') for educational purposes, it may not amount to copyright infringement. Additionally, section 52(1)(i) has also covered 'private or personal use, including research' as reasons under which the usage of a copyrighted work may not amount to infringement. Thus, several educational materials that are copyright protected may be used for academic purposes by teachers, pupils or institutions since it squarely falls under the ambit of the fair use doctrine.
With the onset of the pandemic, several educational institutions have shifted to online modes of teaching. As a result, a wide array of digitalized copyrighted material is being distributed among students. However, there is ambiguity surrounding how the Copyright Act would play into today's online education scenario. While section 52(1)(n) of the Copyright (amendment) Act 2012 permits keeping digital records of textbooks and other academic materials for preservation purposes, it is unclear if the same can be distributed for scholastic purposes. However, it can be speculated that the distribution of copyrighted academic materials may fall under the ambit of fair dealing since it is done with a bonafide intention to disseminate knowledge.
Copyright laws and academic research publications:
Copyright policies pertaining to academic publications are largely regulated by publishing houses and not by copyright acts. Most academic publications follow a subscription model wherein the copyrights that subsists in the academic work should be transferred to the publisher. Such publishers commercially exploit the work by publishing them behind paywalls. However, some publishers allow authors to distribute copies of the work in limited numbers. For instance, the American Physical Society requires the transfer of copyright to the Society. However, it allows authors to distribute preprints, publish a preprint on their websites and to distribute the published version as well without any fee being charged. On the other hand, open access publishers permit authors to possess copyright over their work since their academic works would be made available in the public domain. Some examples of subscription publishers include Elsevier, Routledge and Oxford University Press, whereas, research gate is an example for an open access publisher.
Copyright carries great relevance in the academic realm, however, there are flipsides to the same. Some argue that imposing strict copyright laws on academic materials may translate to being an impediment for accessible education, particularly in third world countries. On the other hand, it is contended that copyright laws rightly protect academic works, thus, protecting it from being plagiarized or unlawfully distributed. While copyright laws subsist in the academic realm in numerous ways, the Act is largely unclear on several fronts. In the coming years, one may anticipate that clearer metrics are set in order to evaluate what can and cannot distributed under the pretext of 'educational purposes'.
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