Prof. Tokunaga's message

Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at
Mon Oct 21 10:20:21 UTC 1996

On Fri, 18 Oct 1996, L.S. Cousins wrote:

> We all understood that these [Mahabharata and Ramayana] files had been
> made public domain. If that is not the case, then why put them on the
> Net ? If John Smith is mistaken here, he is certainly not the only one. 

No, the files have never been public domain.  The readme file accompanying
the files make it very clear that Prof. Tokunaga has retained the
copyright on these files:

| These files are copyrighted by Prof. Muneo Tokunaga.             |
| They may be freely distributed and used for scholarly purposes,  |
| but anyone wishing to use the files for commercial purposes must |
| apply to the copyright holder for permission to copy the file.   |

When Prof. Tokunaga was first pondering on how to distribute these files,
he was indeed planning to make them public domain.  Through Prof. Yano, I
suggested that he should add a statement like the one above.  This
statement protects his intellectual rights, while at the same time serving
international scholarship with great generosity.  This statement is in the
spirit of the GNU public license (although it does not follow it in
certain respects). 

Since Prof. Tokunaga owns the copyright on these files, I think he would
probably be within his rights to deny the right to copy the files to
anybody he wishes.  This is clearly not his intention, as the above
statement makes clear.  Nevertheless, the files are *not* public domain. 

Obviously there are several difficulties: since the copyright statement on
*this* copy of the files says that copies may be made for "scholarly
purposes," it might be argued that if he changed his mind, the change
would only apply to future releases which had a different copyright
statement on them.  I don't know if copyright holders are allowed to alter
their copying conditions retroactively (I think they are, but I'm not

Secondly, there are the practical issues that arise from the files now
being "out there" on the internet, and on people's disks.  In practical
terms, control is not possible.  However, one would of course expect
scholars to apply the highest standards of probity and integrity in their
own dealings with each other, and if Prof. Tokunaga were to issue a formal
request for his files to be withdrawn, deleted, or whatever, then the only
honourable course would be to comply with his wishes.  However, I very
much doubt that it will ever come to that.

Finally, this is a diachronic issue, not merely synchronic.  As we know,
Prof. Tokunaga has now released two "upgrades" to the texts (one merely a
temporary intermediate release). This process may be expected to continue
(we hope), as more people use the files and feed their refinements back to
the maintainer of the master copy of the files, Prof. Tokunaga. It is
perfectly possible that Prof. Tokunaga will change the terms of
distribution for future enhancements of the files, although again, I doubt
that he would wish to do so.

There are several other issues one could imagine here too, concerning
copyright, intellectual property rights, version control, and so forth.  I
leave this as an exercise for the reader.  :-) 

Best wishes,

Dominik Wujastyk               Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine
email: d.wujastyk at          183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, England
<URL:>                    FAX: 44 171 611 8545

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