Art and Indian Copyright Law: A Statutory Reading

A look at how the Indian Copyright Act, 1957, as amended in 2012, interacts with art (other than films and sound recordings), and, in particular, with Indian art. The first part of this text comprises a feminist and post-colonial reading of the Indian copyright statute while later parts focus on interpreting the provisions of the statute in relation to art.

14 December 2015

Note: Protecting Traditional Indian Textiles

Some interesting issues arise here: the V&A seems to have displayed a jacket made of fabric with a digitally-printed, Ajrakh-inspired design that also includes a skull motif. This hasn't gone down well in all quarters; no surprise really: Ajrakh is laboriously hand-printed and doesn't involve, AFAIK, skulls. It's from Sindh in Pakistan, as well as Gujarat and Rajasthan in India. The V&A has apparently indicated that the design is Ajrakh-inspired, but... "Haqq ki ladai hai," says Asid Shaikh who's brought this up; it's a fight for rights.

I've just run a search at the Indian GI database; to the best of my knowledge, Ajrakh does not have GI protection. So, I'm not certain what the legal approach could be especially since, as I understand it, there's been no attempt to pass Ajrakh-inspired design off as the real thing.

At the end of the day though, it isn't really about this jacket, or about Ajrakh alone, but about finding mechanisms within the framework of the law that can be employed to protect traditional arts (and, more importantly, artists) whilst ensuring that the arts are not stifled or forced into stagnation.

Personally, I'm unconvinced that GIs work well not least because implementation is difficult. And copyright, when it comes to traditional Indian arts, it seems to me, is not particularly useful. I've been spending quite a bit of time looking at how the Indian Copyright Act interacts (or, IMO, fails to interact with) art and, specifically, Indian art, and have become increasingly convinced that it's quite simply not a system designed to protect traditional Indian arts (despite its recognition of works of artistic craftsmanship, presumably handicrafts) being based, as it is, on conceptions of authorship and originality which are largely alien to Indian tradition.

That said, I'd like to believe that this isn't a situation where there are no solutions. And that it's just that the solutions aren't immediately apparent.

(This post is by Nandita Saikia and was first published at Indian Copyright.)

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