Mahatma Gandhi is revered the world over for his views on freedom and nonviolence—ideas that he deployed with great success during India’s freedom struggle. As a thinker, he is commonly considered to have been a moral idealist: anti-utilitarian in mindset and deeply skeptical of market mechanisms. Yet, when he engaged with copyright law—as a writer, editor, and publisher—he routinely abjured the idealism of his abstract thinking in favor of a lawyerly pragmatism. Characterized by a nuanced understanding of copyright law and its conflicting normative goals, Gandhi’s thinking on copyright law reveals a reasoned, contextual,and incremental transformation over time, as the economic and political circumstances surrounding his engagement with copyright changed. In it we see a dimension of Gandhi’s thinking, emanating from his training in the common law, which has thus far been ignored. This Essay traces the development of Gandhi’s views on copyright to show how he anticipated several of the central debates that are the staple of today’s copyright wars, and developed an approach to dealing with copyright’s various problems—best described as “copyright pragmatism.” Revealing distinct similarities to both legal and philosophical pragmatism, copyright pragmatism critically engages with copyright as a legal institution on its own terms, examining its working contextually with an eye toward its various costs, benefits, and normative goals. The Essay then unpacks the analytical moves that copyright pragmatism entails to show how it holds important lessons for the future of copyright thinking and reform.
Join the discussion