Tamil dictionary dispute I.

Dominik Wujastyk D.Wujastyk at ucl.ac.uk
Thu Jul 7 23:25:18 UTC 1994

Indian Express, Madras, Wednesday June 8, 1994.  Front page:

                  A Madras scholar moves High Court for Remedy

                                by Rasheeda Bhagat

          Even as  there is  a lot  of debate  on intellectual  property
          rights  and  even  as  many  research  scholars  from   Indian
          universities take  flak  for plagiarising  Ph.D.  theses  from
          foreign universities, an interesting  case of a Madras  writer
          and publisher  accusing the  Indology department  of a  German
          university of  "lifting en  masse" a  modern Tamil  dictionary
          brought out by his company, has come to light.

          The infuriated scholar - S. Ramakrishnan, managing partner  of
          Cre-A Publishing House - has  moved the Madras High Court  for
          remedy.  Justice  Goverdhan has issued  an interim  injunction
          directing the defendant - the Institute of Indology and  Tamil
          Studies (IITS).  University of Cologne, Germany -  restraining
          it "from  interfering with  the plaintiff's  copyright of  the
          work `Kriyavin Tarkalat Tamil Agarathi'  (Tamil-Tamil-English)
          dictionary".  The German  university has been restrained  from
          making  available  copies  of  its  work,  which  Ramakrishnan
          accuses of  infringing  on  his  copyright,  to  any  computer
          network or database, or the publication or distribution of the
          printed copies of its work.

          Advocate Sriram Panchu  who represented  Ramakrishnan in  this
          landmark case in the High  Court submitted that as the  German
          publication, which had  violated his  client's copyright,  was
          already available on the computer  network at the IIT and  the

          SPIC Science Foundation at Madras,  the Madras High Court  had
          jurisdiction to take up the case.

          Cre-A is an  innovative publishing house  in Tamil started  in
          1974, which has attempted  to explore the hitherto  unexplored
          areas in the language.  In  1987, ramakrishnan goat a Rs.  7.2
          lakh  grant  from  HRD  Ministry  to  compile  and  publish  a
          dictionary of modern Tamil (Tamil-Tamil-English).  Summarising
          the objective of the publication, Ramakrishnan said, "There is
          need to periodically  document the  words and  the changes  in
          meaning and  content.  Language,  a product  of  cultural  and
          technological forces,  keeps changing.   New  words come  into
          use, words disappear, existing words lose some of their  sense
          or take additional  sense and forms  of words and  grammatical
          behaviour also change."

          To achieve this  objective, in  the initial stage,  a team  of
          Tamil scholars,  working  ont he  Dictionary  of  Contemporary
          Tamil (DCT), had  to plough through  140,000 pages of  various
          Tamil   texts   such   as   newspaper   reports,    government
          publications, magazines, fiction, school texts, etc.

          In the next stage, a team of English scholars were involved in
          the exercise.  As a result of six years of work the dictionary
          was published in January 1992,  with the copyright resting  on
          the managing editor of the  dictionary, S. Ramakrishnan.   But
          he was shocked to find that within six months - by June 1992 -
          the Indology  Department of  the Cologne  University came  out
          with the Tamil-German dictionary.  He says that of the  18,000
          entries, nearly 16,000  have been  lifted from  DCT, with  the
          English meaning provided by the Madras work, being  translated
          into German.   Even  the  order of  the entries  has  remained

          Worse the  Online Tamil-English  Lexicon (OTL)  of the  German
          University has been  made available  through the  E-Mail to  a
          computer network  to  which people  all  over the  world  have
          access. "These days,  as it is  rare to find  a foreign  Tamil
          scholar who does not use computers, I had no other remedy than
          to approach the court because I  am certain that the sales  of
          our work  will be  affected.   By  making available  words  in
          contemporary  Tamil,  identified  by  us,  and  their  English
          meanings through a  facility available right  at the table  of
          the scholars, they have been prevented from buying our  work,"
          he said adding that only a couple of months ago he had sold  a
          machine readable copy (on diskettes) to a Japanese scholar  at
          US $2000.

          On October  19,  1993,  Ramakrishnan received  a  letter  from
          Dieter  B.  Kapp.    Director   of  the  IITS,  in  which   he
          categorically acknowledged that their "Tamil-German dictionary
          owes much to  your pathbreaking 1992  publication of a  Tamil-
          Tamil-English dictionary".    Later, however,  another  letter
          from the  Institute,  dated  March  5,  1994,  said  that  the
          dictionary was not to be published in the near future.

          Said Ramakrishnan, "I received this letter when the dictionary
          was already  in  circulation.    This  is  totally  unethical.
          Institutions which  should  set  high  standards  in  academic
          integrity and pave the way for intellectual cooperation  among
          various cultures, are doing things, which undermine this  very

          Advocate Sriram Panchu says that  the High Court interim  stay
          is the first step in the case. "In the midst of all this  GATT
          discussion, when we are  at the receiving  end of charges  and
          allegations of breach of  intellectual property rights, I  was
          delighted to take up a case like this.  These people had spent
          years of work on the dictionary,  and it was atrocious on  the
          part of  the German  institute to  straightaway poach  on  the

          Ramakrishan adds  that the  most  serious implication  of  the
          whole issue  is that  the institute  might not  stop at  this.
          According to an E Mail communication exchange dated April  17,
          the IITS representative, in answer to a question from a  user,
          says "We are working on machine readable versions of the works
          of several  modern Tamil  authors starting  with Rajam  Iyer's
          `Kamalambal  Charitiram'   and  including   works  of   Kalki,
          Kothainayakiammal,  Akilan,  Jeyakanthan,  Janakiraman  Mauni,
          etc.  "I wonder whether they have got permission to do so from
          the copyright holders for these works," he added bitterly.
 Dominik Wujastyk           Phone (and voice messages): +44 71 611 8467
 Wellcome Institute,                               FAX: +44 71 611 8545
 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE.

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list