India’s Supreme Court is becoming a national embarrassment. One of its judges, Justice Dipak Misra, has forced cinemas to play the national anthem at the start of every film, ordered people to stand, and banned dramatisations of the anthem. The judge’s order, which is very poorly written, is bad in law and damages the credibility of the court.
The one-day ban of news channel NDTV India is a significant escalation against India’s free press. The government has long monopolised the carriage of speech, particularly radio and television, a stranglehold broken only by the rise of private cable TV in the mid-1990s. All channels are forced to obey the Programme Code, a bizarre, poorly-drafted censorship law which is clearly unconstitutional.
“Perumal Murugan is dead,” wrote the Tamil writer and teacher Perumal Murugan after his books were burnt, his family displaced, his safety threatened, and his career made uncertain. The Madras High Court has brought Murugan to life again. His right to write was upheld. More importantly, his right to offend, without which the right to free speech means little, was upheld. And, crucially, the state was reminded that it is charged with the obligation to resist the illegal demands of censorious mobs, not to appease them.
In the United States, the unreasonably high price of college textbooks does more than encourage a futile “arms race” with students; it reveals troublesome failures in the market and in the copyright system. Some have predicted that the Internet will burst the textbook bubble. But for this to be realized, copyright law must first resolve its tense relationship with digital content and libraries. Libraries have long enjoyed exceptions under copyright regimes across the world to enable access to knowledge for education. Would an international framework to facilitate library lending and digital supply of documents, free from the constraints of DRM, affect the US college textbook bubble? It remains to be seen.
The Supreme Court’s refusal to strike down the anachronistic colonial offence of criminal defamation is wrong. Criminalising defamation serves no legitimate public purpose; the vehicle of criminalisation – sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) – is unconstitutional; and the court’s reasoning is woolly at best.