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Delhi University students impleaded on copyright row

When was the last time you photocopied pages from a textbook? This is not uncommon, especially when only a part of the book is needed for study and the book seems highly priced. Photocopying is invariably the solution to the challenge of making study material available at low cost for students. University of Delhi is at the centre of a legal issue that is touching upon this very challenge — known as the Rameshwari Photocopy Case, this legal wrangle has engaged students, publishers, the university, and also the academicians. In August 2012 a trio of publishers, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis, filed a suit against Delhi University and Rameshwari photocopy services. Their claim is that the photocopied course-packs — bound sets of course material — sold by the shop violated the 1957 Indian Copyright Act by which the right to reproduce the material rests with the copyright holder. In October 2012, the court passed an injunction order that until the case was settled, Rameshwari photocopy services cannot supply any more course-packs to students.

This was when the students of Delhi University entered the fray. Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge (ASEAK) was formed in November and the members got impleaded in the case in March as they felt their side also had to be heard. Their first move was to file an application for removing the injunction. Says Usman Jawed, vice president, ASEAK, and a student at the department of sociology, Delhi University, “The matter in the Court was between the publishers (plaintiffs) and Delhi University and Rameshwari (defendants), in the form of a civil suit. This gave it the shape of a private dispute between parties, whereas the matter was of larger public concern.”

Matters of copyright

The publishers’ spokesperson Mr. Sudhir Malhotra, President of Federation of Indian Publishers is unequivocal — that the blame rests on Rameshwari photocopy, who is “neither the creator nor the ultimate user of the content.” He goes on to explain his solution, namely, that licenses be procured from the Indian Reprographic Rights Organisation (IRRO), by the institutions themselves which could then themselves do the photocopying and supplying of material to students. The annual fee, he points out is not going to cost more than Rs.10-15 per student.

To add to this, Emma House, Director of publisher relations, Publishers Association Limited says, “Purchasing a legitimately photocopied version of textbooks would not be more expensive than the books themselves. Publishers have always been in support of the creation of course packs, so long as these are created legally. Publishers support fair dealing, but cannot support the unlawful copying of work for wide dissemination and without remuneration without an appropriate licensing scheme, such as that provided by the IRRO. The IRRO offers a legitimate and accessible method for securing permissions, and offers copyright tariffs which are amongst the lowest in the world...”

The other side

According to this scheme, apart from the annual license fee, there would be a per page tariff to be given to the IRRO, 50 paise in the case of educational institutions, and what is more, there would be a limit to the amount that could be photocopied — 10 per cent or one chapter.

While this seems like a perfect solution from the publishers’ point of view, the students feel that it would result almost in doubling up the cost they would incur. Worst affected will be those students from poorer backgrounds. Says Usman Jawed, “If a student were to buy all the books he/she needed, just to study a portion of each, they will end up spending around Rs. 60,000 on books. Course packs on the other hand, would cost around Rs. 6,000. This cost would more than double if the institution had to pay a tariff per page. Further, the limit of copying 10 per cent or one chapter is arbitrary.”

Authors support

While the publishers are concerned about the author’s right and their own profit margin being eaten into, several (309) authors supporting the students’ right to photocopy have sent a letter to the publishers protesting that they cannot speak for all authors. They also say in the letter that since the royalties alone do not support the authors, many of whom are working in the colleges and universities, the publishers’ profit is in fact subsidised by taxpayers.

“We will also have to think of alternate forms of publishing,” says Amrapali Basumatary, Assistant Professor of English at Kirori Mal College of Delhi University. “It will be a huge investment of time, with teaching... But we will have to talk about it,” she adds.

In a parallel development, the publishers point out that a few universities, including the Aligarh Muslim University and others, have entered into agreement with the publishers for procuring licenses for photocopying.

With the enrolment in higher education touching a mere 10 per cent, the challenges being faced by the Government are manifold. On the one hand the attempt is to ensure that there is adequate enrolment and that these students be given quality training to enable them compete for jobs internationally. On the other hand is the challenge of doing this equitably and ensure that all sectors of society get a fair access to knowledge and training. This case which is expected to have wide-ranging ramifications is surely an important aspect of this challenge.

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2020 6:42:25 AM |

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