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Ethical And Social Implication Of Digital Intellectual Property Rights And Competition Law

Intellectual property Rights (IPR) and competition law are generally regarded as juxtaposition and contradiction.

IPR includes the concept of having ideas creation and inventions in science, technology engineering and math, and other works. The basic key of IPR protection includes patent trademarks copyrights and trade secrets.

Competition law works on the mandate of creating a free market, reducing the prevalence of monopoly Markets in some fields. It focuses on enforcing a competitive market for both buyers and sellers.

But, with the current generations feeding themselves everything available on the internet and social media, the impression of IPR and the ethical boundaries of content creation and sharing has rapidly compounded. Also, the competition of being on the top or being the best is majorly the result of market competition that has shown its vibrant color in the conduct described as unethical.

This article will highlight the loopholes of Ethical and social implications of digital IPR and competition law.

What is Intellectual Property?
Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names, and images used in commerce.

IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyrights, and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create. By striking the right balance between the interests of innovators and the wider public interest, the IP system aims to foster an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish.

Intellectual property (IP) is related to the human brain applied for creativity and invention. Various efforts in terms of inputs of manpower, time, energy, skill, money, etc., are required to invent or create something new. As per law, legal rights or monopoly rights are given to the creator or innovator to harvest the economic benefits of their invention or creation. These Intellectual property rights (IPR) are territorial rights that can be registered with legal authority in some presentable or tangible form which can be sold bought or licensed, similar to physical property. IPR provides a secure environment for investors, scientists, artists, designers, traders, etc. to foster innovation and scientific temper. In the present scenario of Globalization, IPR is the focal point in global trade practices and livelihood across the world. A balanced IPR System is one of the key mechanisms to support a country's innovation and development objectives.

What is competition law?
The Competition Commission of India (Commission) was established under 1 the Competition Act, 2002 (the Act) to prevent practices having adverse effects on competition, to promote and sustain competition in Indian markets, to protect the interests of consumers, and to ensure freedom of trade carried on by other participants in markets, in India, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. It is mandated, inter alia, to take suitable measures for the promotion of competition advocacy, creating awareness, and imparting training about competition issues. It, therefore, pursues its objectives through two sets of instruments, namely, advocacy and enforcement targeted at enterprises. These measures are complementary and are expected to promote and ensure thereby freedom of trade by enterprises and consumer welfare to achieve 'fair competition for the greater good'.
  • Legislations:
    • The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO): is one of the 15 specialized agencies of the United Nations (UN). Under the 1967 Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization, WIPO was created to promote and protect intellectual property (IP) across the world by cooperating with countries as well as international organizations.
    • The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS): is an international legal agreement between all the member nations of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It establishes minimum standards for the regulation by national governments of different forms of intellectual property (IP) as applied to nationals of other WTO member nations.
    • India's consent to the WTO (World Trade Organization) agreement: has paved the way for its compliance with TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights).
  • Law: Patents Act, 1970; Patents (Amendment) Act, 2005; Patents Rules, 2003; Patent (Amendment) Rules, 2020
  • Law: Trademark Act, 1999; The Trade Marks (Amendment) Act, 2010; Trade Marks Rules, 2003; Trade Marks Rules, 2017
  • Law: Copyrights Act 1957; The Copyright (Amendment) Act, 2012; Copyright (Amendment) Rules, 2021
  • Analysis:
    • The Controversy Between Humans of Bombay (HoB), People of India (PoI), and Humans of New York (HoNY)
    • Background: Humans of New York (HoNY) by Brandon Stanton (2010) gained fame for capturing stories of New Yorkers. Humans of Bombay (HoB) by Karishma Mehta (2014) followed a similar concept for Mumbai.
    • Dispute: HoB sued People of India (PoI) for allegedly copying their format, style, and content, and even using HoB's photographs. The case raises questions about copyright on: Concepts and storytelling formats. The line between inspiration and plagiarism. Brandon Stanton criticized HoB for suing while PoI itself had been inspired by HoNY.
    • Social Media Impact: Platforms like X (formerly Twitter) fueled discussions and debates. Public opinion was swayed by the controversy. HoB faced backlash for the lawsuit.
    • Court Involvement: The Delhi High Court acknowledged the seriousness of the accusations. The case highlights the legal complexities of copyright.
    • Relevance: Importance of protecting intellectual property in the digital age. Balancing creator rights with creative adaptation. Ethical considerations in the creative process. The blurred lines between inspiration and imitation.
This case is a prime example of the tension between protecting creative works and fostering innovation online.

We need discussions on ethical inspiration and adaptation alongside legal measures for copyright.

The critically acclaimed film "Barfi!" directed by Anurag Basu, was accused of having multiple scenes inspired by international films such as "The Notebook" (2004), "Singing' in the Rain" (1952), and "City Lights" (1931).

Although no legal action was taken against the makers of the film, these allegations brought to light the issue of copyright infringement in the Indian film industry The digital revolution has fundamentally changed how we create, share, and access information. This shift from a physical goods-based economy to an "informational economy" has thrust intellectual property (IP) rights into the spotlight. These rights, encompassing areas like copyrights, patents, and trademarks, are now critical for economic success.

The Balancing Act of IP Laws:
On the one hand, IP laws aim to incentivize creation and innovation. They provide creators and inventors with a temporary monopoly on their works, allowing them to profit from their efforts and recoup investments. This, in theory, encourages the production of new knowledge, software, and creative works that benefit society as a whole.

However, critics argue that the pendulum has swung too far in favor of private interests.

Stronger IP laws can:
Limit access to information: Copyrighted materials can become expensive or difficult to access, hindering education and research.
Stifle creativity: Strict copyright restrictions can make it difficult for artists and creators to build upon existing works, hindering the creation of new and derivative works.
Favor corporations over individuals: Large corporations often have the resources to enforce their IP rights aggressively, while individual creators may struggle.

The Digital Age and the Copyright Conundrum:
The rise of digital technologies and online practices like file-sharing and remixing has thrown copyright law into disarray. Traditional copyright laws, designed for a physical world of books and music, struggle to keep pace with the rapid flow of information online.

Fair Use: The concept of "fair use" allows limited use of copyrighted material for purposes such as criticism, parody, or education. However, the boundaries of fair use are often unclear, leading to confusion and litigation.
Digital Rights Management (DRM): Content creators often use DRM to restrict access to digital works. While this protects their copyrights, it can also limit users' fair use rights and control over the information they purchase.

Public Domain vs. Private Control:
The concept of a public domain, a space where information and creations are freely available for all to use and build upon, is under increasing pressure. Expanding IP rights can restrict access to the public domain, potentially hindering creativity and innovation in the long run.

The Debate Continues:
The debate over intellectual property rights in the digital age is far from settled. Striking a balance between the interests of creators, businesses, and the public good remains a complex challenge. We need to find ways to foster innovation and reward creators while ensuring that information remains accessible and the public domain thrives.

Globalization and the victory of laissez-faire economics has made competition keener in many countries and markets around the world. Does this imply that unethical conduct is also becoming more pervasive? The answer, I believe, is no, for two separate reasons. First, competition is the fundamental source of technological progress and wealth creation around the world. The very same market forces that might encourage unethical conduct also motivate firms to innovate and create new products, leading to economic growth.

As societies grow richer, their willingness to pay for ethical behavior, through both government enforcement and private choice, increases as well. As a consequence, both moral and regulatory sanctions work better in the richer countries, leading to more ethical behavior. Second, as Benjamin Friedman (2004) demonstrates, as societies grow richer their views of what is ethical change as well. More universalist ethics that emphasize cooperation and inclusion replace the more tribal and parochial beliefs.

As I have argued in the Introduction, the ethics of cooperation are much more likely to coincide with objective notions of efficiency. For both of these reasons, the increased willingness to pay for ethical behavior and the improving match between ethics and efficiency, competition is likely to promote ethical behavior in the long run.

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