“Public Good” provision in copyright legislation is the most talked about aspect in copyright scholarship and most neglected one in actual legislations. Copyright experts claim that “public good” provision, i.e. the general public’s access to the artifacts of knowledge and information is much more crucial for the creation of informed citizenry and facilitation of public education and welfare than the educators’ conditional access to epistemological artifacts provided by the ‘fair use’ provisions of existing copyright legislations. Existing copyright legislations, they argue, are the tools of capitalists constructed for the control and pursuit of wealth. Driven by ideology of individualism and a romantic notion of authorship, existing copyright laws are gate-keeping knowledge and information at the interest of a few while depriving the general public (primarily the poor ones from developing and underdeveloped countries) of information, knowledge, and entertainment.
In short, while the experts and public are advocating for a porous, flexible, and liberal copyright code, the copyright holders are pressing constantly for more insular/stricter laws.
Against this complex scenario, I conducted a survey of “public good” provisions in the domestic copyright legislations of four different countries: the USA, India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. My central question in the survey was whether the “public good” provisions vary across the countries by their development status, with the US as a developed country and the other three as developing ones. The Berne Convention and other international treaties on copyright provide little space exclusively for developing and underdeveloped countries to include the clauses related to “public good” in their copyright legislations while the same privilege in a way is denied to developed countries. Have the developing/underdeveloped countries taken advantage of that provision and therefore have more “public good” provisions compared to the developed ones?
To determine the degree of “public good” across legislations, in my presentation, I look at certain sections of the legislations like “Terms of Copyright”, “Fair Use” or “Limitations and Exceptions”, “Scope of Copyright”, “Offences and Penalties” and “Works Protected” where legislators could potentially allow general public access to artifacts of knowledge and information, thereby facilitating/generating “public good”. The more flexible these provisions, the more access of general public to knowledge and information and therefore more “public good”. Grounding my survey against a small corpus of recent scholarship on copyright that calls for free flow of information and public good provisions in legislations, I examine relevant legislations of all four countries in relation to one another. My study indicates that “public good” is the most ignored aspect in copyright legislations of all four countries irrespective of their development status. The differences in the provisions –be it copyright term or fair use—across countries are very negligible. In fact, none of the developing countries utilizes the space for “public good” provided by Berne Convention and other international treaties. Though Nepal and Sri Lanka have little flexible provisions which could promote “public good” to some extent, copyright legislations of these countries, in fact, are not much different from that of the USA. Computer software protection in India, for instance, is stricter than that even in the USA. Overall, the copyright laws in all four countries, as claimed by the copyright experts, appear to be the mechanisms instituted for gate-keeping knowledge and information. They are the constructs of those whose works have already been published or of corporate giants who have taken control of publication industries and want to make money by limiting public access to knowledge works and information.