We missed this last month: Technology Development for Indian Languages (TDIL) programme, which has been sponsoring the development of Indian language tech resources, has decided (pdf) to make it cheaper to get access to this technology for external stakeholders: while it was earlier free only for Indian academic researchers, the Ministry of Electronics and IT has announced that startups can use these resources free of cost, MSME’s at 10% of cost, International Academic Researchers at 10% of cost, and Big Companies, MNCs and Foreign Entities at 50% of the cost.

The cost here refers to the cost of creation of the resource “at the current rates”. These resources will be made available through CDAC. Oddly enough, Indian academic researchers and startups, which get these resources for free, will need to sign non-disclosure agreements with C-DAC.

It’s not clear which products are on sale or available for licensing at TDIL. Their website lists the following products:

Shouldn’t it be free for everyone?

Shouldn’t this software be free for everyone, and under Creative Commons licensing approach, wherein it is available to use and build on? We had made the following recommendation on government produced software and content back in 2008, when the Copyright Act was being amended. The point: it has already been paid for by the citizens of India, and giving it away to them for free, to build on, creates more value than holding it back. 10 years later, a step in the right direction.

Our comments from 2008:

5) Introduction of Creative Commons, and for certain software to not be under copyright in public interest: Content and computer software technologies created with funding from the Government have been created with funding from the people of India. Yet much of this content remains treated as being owned and for commercial exploitation by the Government. The intellectual property created by the government is the intellectual property of its people, and all citizens of India should have the right to access it, having already paid for it. In many cases, especially research work done related to digital technologies, the society at large would benefit if these would be available for further development by citizens of the county, and are either open sourced or, at least, made available for further development under licences such as Creative Commons.

Take, for specific example, work done by C-DAC on Indian language fonts, which are still treated as proprietary, and are available only for purchase to citizens, and not for creating improved software. There is a clear digital divide being created because the tools and software for creating Indian language content on the Internet and mobile, whether for education, communication or information, are not more widely available. There is also precedence in the Linux Operating System, a collaborative community used as a base for creating free and open source computer operating systems, thus creating an alternative to expensive, proprietary software.

As we move towards 1 billion mobile customers, please keep in mind that a significant majority of it will not be able to SMS or communicate in Indian language fonts. It is pertinent to note that works created by the judiciary i.e. judgments are not subject to copyright. We believe that ideally, works created by the government should not be subject to copyright either. Such a provision would not make Indian law an aberration. For example, it is the law in the US for works created by the employees of the federal government in the course of employment not to be protected by copyright.

As a second best alternative, government works should at least be made easily available to citizens to create (and use!) enhancements and other derivative works possibly through licences such as share-alike Creative Commons licences. This would encourage the collaborative development of tools which will benefit Indian society as digital technologies become more pervasive.