Interview with Dr. Ashok Gupta - Chairman, IRRO
on Apr 05, 2022
Dr. Ashok Gupta is a Medical professional by training. After practicing for a few years as a Child Specialist, he joined his family business of publishing books (Pustak Mahal) in 1986.
He is actively engaged in publishing, either in his capacity or through `The Federation Indian Publishers' (FIP), the only representative body of Indian publishers affiliated with to International publishers association.
He is on the board of the National Library, Kolkata as an Industry representative, and participated in several meetings of the National Book Promotion Policy Committee, Ministry of Education.
He has been closely associated with FIP for the last 20 years, either as its executive committee member or as an office-bearer, whether it's Jt. Sec., Sec., Treasurer, Vice President or President.
Moreover, he is the Chairman of `The Indian Reprographic Rights Organization' (IRRO), a collective Copyright Society registered and approved by the Ministry of HRD. It licenses organizations to copy and re-use extracts from print and digital publications on behalf of the copyright owners - authors, publishers, and visual artists.
After separating from Pustak mahal in 2011, he runs his own publishing company, Unicorn Books which publishes school, general and trade books.
He has travelled far and wide - Germany, North America, South America, South Korea, China, England, Eastern Europe, South Africa, Australia, Singapore, Saudi Arab, Sri Lanka, and Abu-Dhabi to participate in international book fairs and activities, and to apprise himself about the new trends and technologies.
Frontlist: What currently is the role of copyright in the publishing industry in India?
Ashok: Copyright law is the backbone, rather, it is the main element on which the complete book publishing ecosystem is built. Without copyright law, I think the industry cannot survive because all the stakeholders connected with this ecosystem, the author, the publisher, the artist, all of them, get compensation for their hard work on creating creative work. I think that comes from copyright law itself. Though, I would say that it is the most important element in the total ecosystem.
Frontlist: What measures can India take to inform and educate users about the value of copyright and their rights and responsibilities?
Ashok: In my opinion, the most important step the government can take is to develop a book culture in the society and conveying to the students to respect copyright by including a small chapter in the school books, as well as in college books, explaining the role of copyright plays in society. Short term measures, maybe some seminars, webinars and advertisements, may not serve the purpose. It has to be solved in the medium-to-long term gradually, by changing the mindset of the public, young students. I think by including a chapter on copyright in school books, as well as at college-level books - some sort of reading material or compulsory reading material will solve or gradually build up the mindset against the violation of copyright.
Frontlist: What is the vision of IRRO for the upcoming years in the field of Copyrighting?
Ashok: Though the challenges are many, I am quite upbeat about the future. I think there is some sensitisation at the government level also. And we expect some changes, some amendments in the copyright law as such, wherever there were certain loopholes. Though there are challenges, I see a bright future for the Indian publishing industry, no doubt about it. And cyber laws are also coming up. I have no hesitation in saying that the future will be bright so far as far as protecting the copyrighted content in India.
Frontlist: When copyrighting is concerned, where does India stand compared to other countries, according to you?
Ashok: As far as copyright law is concerned, our copyright law is very robust. There are civil as well as criminal remedies available within the law. But implementation of the copyright law is quite dicey. It is not easy to implement, it is not easy to prosecute a violator at the police level also, it is very, very difficult to prosecute someone, even if someone is found violating a copyright law along with possession of the pirated books, even then, it is very cumbersome as well as cost-intensive to prosecute, or get some remedy from the court, although the law is very strong. Something needs to be done so that it becomes easier for the publishers and authors to take action against the violators so that it results in some sort of deterrence in public opinion.
Frontlist: There is a lack of awareness of the importance of copyright. What do you think is the main roadblock or root cause?
Ashok: There are a few reasons, one is unaffordability and poverty, books as such are not very low-priced. But in comparison to other countries, our books are much cheaper, even then, people think that they have a right to get the books for educational purposes or any other purposes without any permission because they think their main aim is self-development or maybe for the development of the country. If they are studying, or if they are learning certain things, or it is good for the country, it is good for the people, and there should not be any control over the knowledge which is available in books or copyrighted content, and it should be made available. But they do not realize that those who create this content spend lots of hours, time, and money, and they also have to maintain their families. So many stakeholders are dependent on this creative industry business. They also need to be compensated. Issues are there, no doubt about it, the government should come forward. In my opinion, for certain sections of the society, some books need to be made available at reasonable prices and the government should come forward, and subsidise some books in certain ways, or open up more libraries and promote the concept of a library in the society. Because even in foreign countries or in Western countries, people go to the libraries and take big books, no one expects to buy all the books that they need. Most of them go through the library, take the books, do their work and return them. And this way, the knowledge industry runs. I think the government of India needs to do something. I don't deny that there is a section of society which cannot afford books, no doubt about it. And from our side, as publishers, as authors, we are trying to keep our prices very low. There is no control on paper prices, no control of other inputs. But people do expect that the content should be made available free of charge.