A shorter version of the article was published on The Star Magazine (The Daily Star) on May 14 2010 (though written much earlier). The full article is given below, including the uncut interview taken by my colleague on this assignment.
As somewhat of a writer, I’ve often been curious to understand how freedom of speech is interpreted across various media. Whether it is practiced with liberty or constrained within socioeconomical and psychological limitations. It is not surprising that we, Bangladeshis – being a conscience born from a history of bloody struggle towards the independence of our mother tongue – take the issue of free practice of language with acute sensitivity.
In light of a recent article by Mustafa Jabbar, the proprietor of Bijoy (popular Bangla input system), the controversy surrounding the development of English to Bangla computing and infringement towards expression through free language have surged the local blogosphere. The offset was simple – a claim by Mr. Jabbar against Avro – a freeware Bangla input software – being a pirated or hacked version of his patented Bijoy. Following the provoked responses refuting his claim, Mr. Jabbar graciously clarified that he did not have a problem with Avro itself, rather with the keyboard layout UniBijoy (i.e. one of the four layouts used in Avro) which he believes is a pirated version of his copyrighted Bijoy layout. Note, Mr. Jabbar’s claim entailed the term “same”; and thus resulted in an infuriating rush of reactions, facebook notes, blog posts and newspaper articles.
Before we move on, one needs to understand why the basis of Mr. Jabbar’s accusation stands on shaky grounds. Firstly, Bijoy follows ASCII and requires specific fonts which are mapped into Bangla letters; whereas Avro uses Unicode and does not require a physical Bangla keyboard or specifically installed fonts. While the former is limited by the standards of a few characters set by ASCII, the latter has access to a support of innumerable characters and accommodates multiple languages without restrictions. Using the Avro phonetic transliteration system, users can generate Bangla words from Roman typefaces with amazing ease. Secondly, a keyboard layout can be defined ‘hacked’ or ‘pirated’ if it is the exact replica of its competitor. In case of Avro, it shares an 8-keystroke difference with that of Bijoy’s layout. In situations where a single key difference can result in the making of an entirely new keyboard layout, the accusation of the two aforementioned layouts being the same is grossly irrelevant and ridiculous. Thirdly, Bijoy is a closed source software and requires the purchase of license for it to be used, meanwhile Avro is freeware and available to anyone and everyone without spending a dime. The source code of the former cannot be hacked to program the latter. In a nutshell, Avro is certainly not a pirated version based on the groundwork laid by Bijoy and have yet to be proven otherwise. On the contrary, it accommodates the smooth use of our mother tongue with remarkable ease and literally free of cost, eventually making its predecessors obsolete.
However, the response to the said dispute does not end with blatant technical details, which have already been more eloquently elaborated in Sachalayatan (besides other blogging platforms); rather through an analogy comprising of impeding and compelling questions. Why would Mustafa Jabbar – an undoubtedly lauded name in the development of Bangla computing – risk his reputation by making an allegation that he – like any other technically sound individual – knew to be standing on shaky grounds? As mentioned in several articles published online, this was not the first time something of the sort has happened. In the past, Mr. Jabbar has tried to intimidate other developers of Bangla computing, proclaiming his Bijoy a monopolistic medium and has even threatened Avro developers with legal and police actions. Question arises, why does he feel so insecure? Why now? Those being answered, what now? More interestingly, how and why does the whole Bangla blogosphere unanimously controvert his allegations in the absence of a single leader to jumpstart the movement and come together in a matter of days?
Truth is, in spite of our minor differences, we all love the simplicity and vibrancy of our motherland, and share a deep rooted connection with our mother tongue. In every possible situation, particularly in a space where Bangla is not the default mode of expression, Bangalis feel the urge to establish their language and converse with it. We are looking for an outlet that allows us to express ourselves in Bangla across any virtual network in a matter of seconds and without paying a price. In that vein, Avro has truly been groundbreaking by allowing thousands of users to write in Bangla in the largest mass media possible without having to learn complex keyboard codes and spending five grands. It has managed to effectively realize a common dream and have successfully hyped the use of Bangla over the internet and other media.
However, the success of Avro was further boosted when the Election Commission used the software to develop what is yet the largest digital database project in Bangladesh, i.e. the Voter ID and National ID project. In his post, Mehdi Hasan from Avro writes –
“The Election Commission initially chose a software that would allow them to input large numbers of data in Bangla; but realized that the software required purchase of individual licenses for individual laptops. Since in the Voter ID and National ID project, hundreds of laptops will be used, buying individual licenses will cumulate into a massive expenditure. To save that money, the EC decided to develop their own software and gave the project to a BUET faculty. The BUET faculty developed the system and kept Avro as the medium to be used to input data. It was easy to use and available for free, so naturally, it came as a preference. In return, I only asked the EC to provide me with a certificate stating Avro was used in the Voter ID and National ID project, and allowed them to use the software without charging any money.”
That being clarified, question remains why would someone, twice the age of a new era of Bangla computing bluntly make fleeting remarks. Is it greed, jealousy or insecurity? If the EC – in fact – used Bijoy for the aforementioned project, the system would have earned its proprietor 50 million taka, undoubtedly a remarkable marketing victory. If Avro did not gain its fast paced acceptability, Bijoy (unless someone else came up with something else) would still have been the sole choice for any Bangla input system. The fact that recent developments in a field that was once grasped by a monopoly has minimized that monopoly’s influence is assumedly the only logical reason behind Mustafa Jabbar’s infuriation.
But, how long does infuriation last? There is a great difference between anger out of love and anger out of hate and jealousy. The former is inexplicably powerful, and as idealistic as it may sound, it has been proven correct on more than one occasion. When the country’s most active Google generation comes together at their own will to defend a case they share solidarity with only to establish free practice of language and dispersion of Bangla across every virtual media, its resistance inevitably falls short of allies. Any man-made system – be it mass media, government or free market – thrives on human resources, the ones who effect and affect it. Unity towards achieving liberation is equally empowering and intimidating, depending on which end of the bargain we are.
Bhasha unmukto hobei.
Global Voices Online (globalvoicesonline.org)
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and does not reflect on the views of the publication, its affiliations or third parties.
Mustafa Jabbar’s Take on the Issue
Mustafa Jabbar, proprietor of Bijoy shares his take on the debate between Bijoy and Avro. The telephone interview was taken by Hussain M Elius on 2 May, 2010.
We read at various media that you’ve mentioned Avro is a pirated version of Bijoy. Could you please elaborate on that?
I have write-ups published in newspapers and my website on the issue, so you might refer to those. Last Tuesday, an article was published on The Daily Sangabd, which has the detailed information. However, for your clarification, when the keyboard layout used in Bijoy is used in any other software, it is defined as piracy.
To refute your claim, an article was recently published in The Daily Janakantha on behalf of Avro team. In that article, it was mentioned that Avro shares an 8-keystroke difference with that of UniBijoy’s layout.
Law does not understand an 8-key stroke difference. If you refer to the Copyright Law in 2005 and go through its related divisions – which I have mentioned in my article at The Daily Sangbad, you will easily understand.
Do you plan on taking legal actions?
I don’t want to go through legal actions. I have already complained at the Copyright Office and they have already sent a notice demanding an explanation to Avro. I’ve received a copy of it myself today. There are laws in the country. You can easily write against someone in blogs, websites or newspapers, but that does not mean law cannot be enforced. If you claim that it is not pirated, then elaborate through legal references. The answer does not lie with one’s verbal claims of 8-keystroke or 10-keystroke differences. I did not make the copyright or patent myself. Copyright or patent registrar has given it to me. If you have issues regarding copyright, you can approach the Government and complain that your copyright has been taken. I have even mentioned at Janakantha that you can impose a libel suit against me if needed.
Apart from this, are there any other measures you plan on taking?
Firstly, I’ll see what actions Copyright Registrar takes on the issue. If they can resolve it, I don’t need to take any further steps. According to the country’s legal infrastructure, I can go to court under Copyright, Patent or Trademark Law. I didn’t want to approach the court about these issues since 2003; however given the provocative and defaming language used against me, it seems as though my biggest mistake was simply making Bijoy. Yet, the person who has copied my keyboard and distributed openly in a website has not apparently committed any crime. My crime is mine. It’s my copyright, it’s my patent and in spite of it, I am the one at flaw here.
It seems claims have been that in blogs that Avro is open source…
It is not open source. It’s a freeware. Open source means software’s source is publicly open. Please refer to a copy of Prothom Alo from last Friday. Avro’s Windows version does not have its source open. Many freeware in the world were distributed free of cost initially, and charged for its proceeding versions. It’s almost like creating hype that you’re distributing something for free. I have no problem with free distribution of your own software, but why will you distribute someone else’s work? Bijoy is not his product. He has Avro Easy and other keyboards – I have no complaints against them. Why will he use my work? He, himself has admitted 99% has been copied, and now he is claiming 8-keystroke differences. Basically, the characters used to map Bangla letters using A to Z is the same, and in his said differences, we all know how many times does one use chondrobindu or bishorgo – and those are not related to fingering. In spite of all this, he claims he has not copied.
Thank you for your time, Mr. Jabbar.