Mahatma Gandhi’s views on exclusivity over intellectual creations are fraught with uncertainty, and merely a matter of one’s understanding, probably influenced by individual biases, opinions and inclinations. Scholars have over the years used the ambiguities in Gandhiji’s views to arrive at inferences and conclusions that further their own understandings, philosophical underpinnings and ends. It is difficult to clearly state what Mahatma Gandhi’s stand was with respect to intellectual property, and easy to opine that his stand on the subject is filled with ambiguity. From strands of Gandhiji’s quotes and opinions from secondary sources, and work of respected scholars like Shyamkrishna Balganesh, I have put together a short note on what I believe Gandhiji stood for.
Mahatma Gandhi was against exclusivity of any sort that does not further public welfare. He considered exclusivity to be inherently against public interest, and supported exclusivity only when its benefits to the public outweighed private and commercial interests. Gandhiji was not in favour of exclusivity over products of the mind and intellect, and was of the opinion that intellectual creations and knowledge are meant to be open.
Here are some statements of Mahatma Gandhi that reflect his views on exclusivity:
No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive”
“May not men earn their bread by intellectual labour? No. The needs of the body must be supplied by the body.
“Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” perhaps applies here as well. Mere mental, that is intellectual, labour is for the soul and is its own satisfaction. It should never demand payment. In the ideal state, doctors, lawyers and the like will work solely for the benefit of society not for self.”
“…my experiments have not been conducted in the closet, but in the open; and I do not think that this fact detracts from their spiritual value. …Far be it from me to claim any degree of perfection for these experiments. I claim for them nothing more than does a scientist, who, though he conducts his experiments with the utmost accuracy, forethought and minuteness, never claims any finality about his conclusions, but keeps an open mind regarding them.”
“I do not want my house to be walled in on sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible.”
Gandhiji was clearly against exclusivity of all kinds, and strongly believed that an open, free and sharing mind is most beneficial to society, culture and development. Today’s open source, creative commons and open science movements reflect and crystallise some of his views.
Creative Commons, Open Source and Open Science
With their emphasis on openness and attribution, the open source movements carry forward Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy. By claiming intellectual property ownership, these movements have over the years been successful in promoting a culture of sharing without compromising on the right of creators to be recognised for their work. They actualise Gandhiji’s trusteeship theory, which states that property has to be held by enterprising individuals for the benefit of the general public. While putting forth his views on exclusivity and property, Gandhiji recognised contradictory views of other scholars and attempted to arrive at a balanced model where all views are given their due importance.
Research and Scientific Enquiry
Mahatma Gandhi did not believe that scientists, creators and inventors need incentives to conduct research. In his view, discovery, enquiry and quest for truth is an inherent trait of human beings. Talking about the spirit of research and materiality associated with it, he said:
“I would like to pay my humble tribute to the spirit of research that fires the modern scientists. …My quarrel is not against that spirit. My complaint is against the direction that the spirit has taken. It has chiefly concerned itself with the exploration of laws and methods conducing to the merely material advancement of its clientele. But I have nothing but praise for the zeal, industry and sacrifice that have animated the modern scientists in the pursuit after truth.”
Having said that, Gandhiji was not against incentives to give direction to scientific endeavour. That is probably why he organised a competition with a prize money of One (1) Lakh Rupees for creating a portable, light weight charkha.
We can go back and forth about Gandhiji’s views about intellectual property, and argue whether he supported IP regimes or not, but that exercise will take us into the domain of hind sight analysis, which patent law cautions against. We only have his words, which by their limitations, give us only a fleeting glance into the great man’s mind. Mosaicing statements made in different contexts, at different points of time, under different circumstances, will only take us to the prohibited zone of extrapolation.
Team BananaIP pays tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, and wishes him a very happy 150th Birthday.
My sincere thanks to Ashwini and her team for their research assistance.
- Guaranteeing access to knowledge, available at https://www.wipo.int/wipo_magazine/en/2012/04/article_0004.html, visited on 1st October, 2019.
- Science, Truth and Gandhi : Divergence and Convergence, available at https://www.mkgandhi.org/articles/science-truth-and-gandhi.html, visited on 1st October, 2019.
- Building Borderless Minds and Borderless, available at http://www.mashelkar.com/keynote-addresses/149-building-borderless-minds-and-borderless-thinking, visited on 1st October, 2019.
- The Mahatma on Medicine available at: http://ramachandraguha.in/archives/the-mahatma-on-medicine-the-telegraph.html, visited on 2nd October, 2019.
- Gandhi on Technology, available at: http://www.forbesindia.com/blog/technology/today-in-tech-gandhi-on-technology-microsofts-new-visa-proposal/, visited on 2nd October, 2019.
- The law and the lawyers, available at: https://www.mkgandhi.org/law_lawyers/appendix2.htm, visited on 2ne October, 2019.
- Gandhi and Copyright Pragmatism by Shyamkrishna Balganesh, available at: http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4227&context=californialawreview, visited on 2nd October, 2019.
- Gandhi, Trusteeship and Intellectual Property Law, available at: http://globaltrust.tau.ac.il/gandhi-trusteeship-and-intellectual-property-law/, visited on 2nd October, 2019.