Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Missing Link: Adi Sankara and Copyright

A week ago, an anonymous reader wrote to me objecting to my post on Adi Sankara. He/she thought that what I had written about Adi Sankara being upset with practices like Nara Bali (offering humans to God) which were carried out in the name of Hinduism, was not true and that I had based my work on some essays published in the 1960s and 70s, which propogated such falsehood. He/she also added that I'd be in major soup if only copyright had been popular in the 60s and 70s and these essays had been copyrighted.

First, some clarifications to the reader (hope he/she is reading this):

a) Copyright was very well prevalent and even popular during the 60s and 70s, and certainly the many books I've read about Adi Sankara were all protected by copyright.

b) Sorry to disappoint you, but you cannot find any copyright violation in my piece because I have presented the gist of over 2000 pages of literature (essays as well as translations of lectures) that I've read about Adi Sankara, in around 200 words. That cannot be copyright violation.

c) You had problems with my mentioning Nara Bali. Agreed, I have no way of confirming this, for I tell you truthfully, I have no memories of my past lives, so I would not know how it was when Adi Sankara lived. I can only grow my knowledge from the works of experts who've written about the Bhagavatpada. Indeed, it is a pity that none of Adi Sankara's contemporaries recorded his life. Accounts of Adi Sankara are mostly based on random recordings and hearsay, and many pieces of writing on Sankara Vijayams written by Sankara's successors. Coming back to Nara Bali, I have read in numerous books about Adi Sankara's encounter with the Kapalikas who wanted to offer him to God! Now, that seems like Nara Bali to me! But since you've raised the doubt and I am unable to confirm it, I have altered it to just Bali (which could mean just sacrifice of animals!)

That said, let me move on to the second part of my post... on copyright. Copyright is a person's right over expression of an idea, not on the idea itself. For example, if you take the instance of writing about Adi Sankara, I did not live during his times. So, anything I write will obviously be based on what I hear from people or read in books. Now, that is certainly not copyright violation unless I copy verbatim, and trust me, I am too proud to do that :-) So, the concept of copyright is more closely tied to expression and not to an idea, else nobody can write historical essays!