The Supreme Court of India has issued notice in a Public Interest Litigation which seeks for directions to the Central Government with respect to their responsibility in publishing and ensuring availability of authentic Bare Acts, Rules et al at a reasonable price.
The matter came up before a Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, Justices AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, who proceeded to issue notice in the plea.
The petition also raises the question of copyright held by the government in the Acts of Parliament and its failure to give effect to the provisions of Copyright Act in larger public interest.
The plea further contends that failure of the government to ensure availability of all Acts of Parliament, Notifications, Regulations etc. is a violation of a citizen's "right to know" under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
"The Respondents cannot be allowed to infringe with impunity, fundamental right of citizens of India being "Right to Know", which obliges Respondents to bring to the knowledge of citizens as regards the law that is prevalent as on date and to disseminate knowledge about the same by way of publishing Acts of Parliament, Rules, Notifications, Regulations etc. which are not only reasonably priced, but accurate and authentic as well".
It is additionally averred in the plea that the government has invariably allowed the public to suffer by allowing "some private businessmen" to publish these Bare Acts and, as a consequence, these businessmen have created a monopoly and are charging the public exorbitant prices for the same.
Furthermore, as the "Acts of Parliament etc. are admittedly in public domain and under copyright ownership of Government, therefore, the same could not have been allowed to be used by selected few for commercial gains and at best, could only have been used for personal or professional use by public at large….Therefore, such gross abuse of power cannot be allowed to supersede the larger public interest".
Filed by Advocate Prashant Bhushan on behalf of Arpit Bhargava, the plea raises the following questions of law:
A. Whether the government is duty bound to publish and make available authentic, accurate and reasonably priced hard copies of all Acts of Parliament, Rules, Notifications, Regulations etc. along with amendments from time to time?
B. Whether "right to know" under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India extends to ensuring availability of all Acts of Parliament, Rules, Notifications, Regulations etc. along with amendments from time to time to public at large?
C. Whether government is the copyright owner in the Acts of Parliament along with Rules, Regulations, Notifications etc. in terms of provisions of Copyright Act, 1957, in particular Section 17(d)?
D. Whether act of publishing "Bare Acts" by parties other than government constitute infringement of copyright of government in terms of Section 52(1)(q) of Copyright Act, 1957?
By raising these questions, the petition goes on to challenge the Delhi High Court order rendered in 2019, wherein the PIL filed before the HC was disposed of without a direction that "as and when there is any violation of the Copyright Act 1957, especially Section 52 read with Section 52(K); 17(d) and other provisions of the Constitution of India, action will be taken by the Respondents in accordance with law, rules, regulations and government policies applicable to the facts and cirumstances of the case against erring publishers".