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Govt publications must give credit where due

Government reports and press releases simply refer to the article by date without mentioning the names of the authors. In some cases, references are altogether ignored.
Last Updated 26 February 2024, 22:04 IST

India recognises the moral rights of authors under the Copyright Act, 1957. These are non-economic rights tied to an author’s work. They include the right to attribution. Attribution rights ensure that authors are credited for their works. This aims at respecting intellectual contributions and fostering creativity.

This concept of moral rights applies not only to highly creative works of art or fiction but also to any original work, including original policy and academic writing, whether legal, economic, political, or any other.

In the recent past, several government bodies have borrowed from research published by individuals in newspapers in their reports and policy decisions.

The digital landscape, along with traditional newspapers, has revitalised the policymaking space. It has increased contributions from individuals with specialised and expert knowledge, increased the reach of impactful policy research, and expanded access to information like never before.

While the government has benefited from individual contributions, the authors of the newspaper pieces have not been duly credited in several instances. The government reports and press releases simply refer to the article by date without mentioning the names of the authors. In some cases, references are altogether ignored.

Such practices should be nipped in the bud. All that needs to be done is for government officials to be specifically instructed to duly cite (including the names of authors) all the sources that they rely on for their reports.

The people in charge of writing and releasing reports and documents should be trained. They should be made to realise that ignoring the author’s contributions can lead to legal issues. To avoid disputes and bad publicity, it is advisable that the government adopt this practice across departments sooner rather than later.

Such practices will enable full disclosure of materials relied on and increase transparency. This is also a way for the government to show that they are engaging with, rather than ignoring, public sentiment.

Such a practice is not new and has been followed by courts in our country for several years. Being cited by a court is often regarded as a feather in the author’s hat.

When it comes to the government and courts, standards should be higher. Needless to say, public recognition is much higher when articles are cited by a government body or a court.

Such public recognition serves as a valuable form of reward for authors and creators. It acknowledges their efforts, motivates continued creation, and can also contribute to professional growth and reputation.

Indeed, governments and courts are overburdened and busy, but that can’t be an excuse for them to ignore an individual’s intellectual contributions. Attributing a source is a best practice that should be followed by the government and all its departments in their publications.

A small change in writing ethics can have a big impact. Since India is on an upward spiral, a positive feedback loop, led by the government, can compound growth. Positive actions like giving due credit to authors will lead to further positive outcomes. Since the government is pushing for increased innovation and creativity, it must practice what it preaches to set the right example for society.

(The writer is assistant professor at the National Law School of India, Bengaluru)

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(Published 26 February 2024, 22:04 IST)

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