Shops accused of infringing copyright laws by copying textbook material

“Can you please give me ‘Ethics in public domain’? And make it fast! I am in a hurry,” says Bushara, a bushy-haired girl from St. Stephen’s College. She is talking to an old man in a tiny photocopying shop in a corner of Delhi School of Economics. There is a long, studied silence that follows her words and then the old man, Sri Shyam Singh – proprietor of Rameshwari Photocopy Service – wheezes: “We don’t have it.”

It is a breezy Thursday morning and Mr. Singh looks dazed when the girl talks again, this time more loudly: “Tell me when you are going to get it and tell me properly. I can’t keep coming here again and again.” A long silence again before the reply: “Don’t bother coming here, we are no longer allowed to photocopy any readings from your university syllabus.”

After the girl leaves, Mr. Singh says she will have a tough time getting whatever she was asking for: “She will have to source many books, and then take a chapter or two from each to read. She will then have to buy all those books and spend a lot of money,” he says, adding that this past Saturday morning several men in police uniform came and told them to get out of their shop. “We stood outside and the men searched our shop, and then we were given a legal notice that said we were violating copyright laws by photocopying course material and that we have to go to court some time next month,” he said, adding that he still did not understand what the whole issue was about.

Following the “raid”, the DSE librarian on Tuesday issued a letter to the photocopiers stating that the summons had been served on them because they had in a “most unauthorised and illegal manner” reproduced and issued “the publications of many reputed publishers, namely Oxford, Cambridge and Taylor & Francis”, and they should suspend their photocopying service till the High Court case was disposed of.

Students, however, feel differently. “About 5 per cent of all books in the library are photocopies. In fact, the faculty prepares their reading material by giving a list to the photocopiers which says what to copy from which chapter in which book. The photocopiers have library cards, they go to the library take whatever books that need to be photocopied and return them when they are done,” says Subhadeepta, a Ph.D. Sociology student, adding that if he placed an order for a textbook it would take ages to reach the library and that buying the books was not even an option.

“I needed to buy a textbook for my dissertation which cost Rs.6,000. I cannot afford that, especially when my scholarship grant is only Rs.10,000,” he adds.

The students also felt that going to the library was not even an option anymore. “There are about 70 students in an M.A. classroom. The library cannot stock 70 copies of the same book,” says Apoorva, an M.A. Sociology student. “We have several readings prescribed for each subject. About 50 readings per course, which will usually be some random chapter from different books, are very expensive. We cannot even afford to buy 50 of the cheapest Indian publications that cost about Rs.500 to Rs.1000, then how are we going to buy the expensive foreign publications?” asks another M.A. Sociology student, Leki.

However, the students were most frightened that other photocopying shops in the university would also shut shop after Rameshwari Photocopy Service had been made an example of. “This will have a ripple effect. We have already heard that the nearby photocopiers are also shutting down. Outside the university, the photocopiers would not even know from where to get the material,” says Subhadeepta, adding that it was ironical how he had bought several original publications of OUP and Cambridge after reading the photocopies. “Whenever they make copies, they always copy the title and credits of these publications too,” he says.

“The issue is that the photocopiers have been made a scapegoat that is all,” was the general consensus of students at the college. The students said they were stunned when they heard that publishers like Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis had instituted legal proceedings against the poor photocopiers in their college.

The librarian, Dr. Lokesh Sharma, said he had heard of the raid from the photocopiers themselves and was just following the court’s orders by asking them to shut shop.

Delhi University has also been made a defendant in the case but was not served any summons.

More In: Delhi