This article builds on one of my previous articles in which I argued that education should not be traded as commodities.
I was on my way back home, tired and hopeless, when a banner struck all my attention. The banner showed, among a number of best-seller books for schoolchildren, a warning: All Rights Reserved!
Wait a second, rights reserved for educational books?? You mean education-related properties need copyrights? Should this social good also become a private property as those of corporations? c’mon, what is their point to restrict knowledge?
Many of us have noticed similar warnings, at least in the first page of their books. And if you would notice, the city is also flushed with the advertisement campaign of Oxford University press against the pirated books, which have negatively impacted some of the publisher’s revenue besides helping a large pool of students who cannot make it to buy its heavily-priced books.
Most of you wouldn’t agree with me at the first place, so let us examine the issue in some pointers.
- Most of the material in these educational books is actually extracted from the different sources, sometimes the whole of the text comes courtesy of (ctrl+c and ctrl+v) or simple rephrasing. In a nutshell, it just reflects what is already created or discovered. Textbooks for children create nothing new, so there is absolutely no copyright in the first place. Oxford, for example, adds nothing new from its authors in any sense.
- Most of the content nowadays is created by the ghost authors, for which the company pays them a nominal value. They content staff working for them uses about the same tricks. In both instances, the company doesn’t need to spend that much which it claims it has spent in acquiring such a nice piece (of shit off course).
- The material on which books are printed, and sometimes their graphics, is actually very costly, that is why it is being pirated. And most of us realize the fact that due to these pirated books, we are able to study otherwise hardly any of us could afford text books worth thousands of rupees.
- It is only the student who suffers when pirated books go off the market. Most of the students won’t be able to purchase heavily-priced original versions.
- Needless to mention, publishers offer school owners for promoting their books in their school curriculum. As much as 30 to 40% is handed off to school administrations by publishers to get their books adopted.
In short, children books, especially textbook used for curriculum, are the ones which have the most money potential for publishers. And with all these money, they finally want to infringe our very own right to acquire knowledge.
Now the point is about what to do of intellectual property. Seeing its evolution, we have seen not seen any of its contribution for the society, not even the actual producers of intellectual property. In most cases, writers are never paid of their royalties and musicians and singers just ‘sale’ their materials for good to entertainment companies who market them for their own good.
In case of intellectual property for books, the concept has merely acted to restrict knowledge rather than working for its expansion. Imagine what happen if the polio vaccine was patented in the same fashion. What would happen if only one company had copyrights of vaccination? What would be the case if penicillin is being owned by a private company? It would be a catastrophe, a nightmare, and a doomsday for the whole society.
I would also like to mention the damage the popular notion of intellectual property has created. A few years ago, a company successfully patented a neem tree?? You know what did that mean: the Neem tree, though coming only from one source, would be never by freely available for masses. Acquiring neem anywhere would have become an act of piracy; thank God the Government of India won the case against patent makers of Neem tree!
And there are cases where unintelligent preservation of intellectual property is already damaging. For instance, there are hundreds of different species of rice which has been patented; due to this the farmers die due to starvation. They are being stopped from doing what they did for the thousands of years. Is this what the scientific advancement is for?
Clearly, the devastating state of education in Pakistan (and the world at large) owes much to the unnecessary use of copyright laws on books. If they (publishers) can’t even cut it for other things, they should at least be pardoning students who have their books on syllabus.
He is a gold medalist from University of Karachi and a regular contributor for Awaz-e-Pakistan.