'Copyleft', the new term for open-source software where 'All rights are reversed'
The topic of the talk at the last meeting was quite unusual, “Copyright, Copyleft and Theft”. It was delivered by Ms Rajni Bakshi, author, activist and former journalist. However, neither were the reasons she adduced for her choice of subject abstruse nor were the stories she used to make her point far-fetched.
On the contrary, she struck a chord as she gradually unspooled her theory questioning the phenomenon of “copyright extremism”. The burden of her talk was that democracy, among other things, meant the free flow of ideas and information, their constant exchange and enrichment; in other words, the right of every human being to access all available information.
Ms Bakshi was introduced by Dolly Thakore as the author of several books, including Bazaars, Conversations and Freedom (2009) which won two Vodafone Crossword Awards, in non-fiction and also the “popular award”. The Nobel Laureate, Mr. Amartya Sen, had said about this book that it “insightfully explores how the working of markets can be improved through a modern version of a combination of trade and conversation, and characterises the age-old bazaar”.
Her other books were The Long Haul, the Bombay Textile Workers’ Strike of 1982-83 and Bapu Kuti: Journeys in Rediscovery of Gandhi.
Ms Bakshi narrated several stories to explain the title of her talk and to make her point. The first related to an exchange between Jack Warner of Warner Brothers and Groucho Marx.
Two or three years after Warner Brothers’Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart became a hit in 1942, the Marx Brothers announced a film calledNight in Casablanca. But Warner Brothers immediately sent a legal notice saying no one could make a film using the word Casablanca because they “owned” the name.
Groucho delivered a taut repartee saying, “Apparently, there is more than one way of conquering a city and holding it as your own; until the time we contemplated making this picture, I had no idea that the city of Casablanca belonged exclusively to Warner Brothers. (But) I don’t understand your attitude; even if you plan on re-releasing Casablanca at the same time asNight in Casablanca is playing, I’m sure the average movie fan could learn to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo Marx”.
He went on to say, “You claim that you own Casablanca and no one can use the name without permission. But what about Warner Brothers? Do you own that, too? You probably have the right to use the name Warner, but what about Brothers? Professionally, we were Brothers long before you were!
“And Jack, how about your name? Do you maintain that yours is an original name? Well, it’s not; it was used long before you were born; off hand, I can think of two Jacks, Jack of the Beanstalk and Jack the Ripper who cut quite a figure in his days”.
Groucho added: “Look, Jack, I’m sure this is not your idea; I’m sure some bright, young, upwardly mobile, ambitious legal clerk has thought of this. I’m sure that if you think about it and look at it yourself, you will withdraw this thing... we are a