Publishing biggies target Delhi University photocopy shop

Students demand right to access study material after Cambridge and Oxford university press move move court against neighbourhood photocopy shop for copyright infringement

By Zothan Mawii
Published: Friday 14 September 2012

A court case against a small photocopy shop in Delhi University's North Campus has triggered protests and a debate on rights of students to access study material. The shop, Rameshwari Photocopy Service, was a lifeline for students surviving on shoestring budgets. They could buy photocopies of books and compilation of extracts from books, which they otherwise could ill  afford, from this shop located in the Delhi School of Economics precincts. Last month, three prominent publishers of academic material—Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, and Taylor and Francis—moved court, accusing the shop of copyright infringement.  Services have been suspended at Rameshwari Photocopy Service following notice from the Delhi High Court and pressure from the university.

The petition filed by the publishers accuses Rameshwari Photocopy Service of being “engaged in cover-to-cover reproduction of the Plaintiffs’ publications...and selling unauthorized compilations of substantial extracts from the Plaintiffs’ publications by compiling them into course packs/anthologies for sale.”  

Rameshwari Photocopy Services has stopped selling photocopies of books and course packs after notice from the Delhi High Court


Most students of Delhi University will testify to the importance of these course packs. The cost of most Indian publications start at Rs 300; foreign publications cost up to US $100. This makes it nearly impossible for most students to buy all the textbooks required for their study course. Many a time, the required portion, as dictated by the Delhi University syllabus, may consist of only a few chapters or an extract from a book; at other times, these books may not be easily available. In view of these problems faced by students, reading material required for each course is collected from different sources, like books, journals and e-books, and compiled into a course pack.

Professor S C Panda, director of Delhi School of Economics, is baffled as to why this particular shop was targeted. “This happens all over the university. Material for the course pack is collected from various sources. I am not sure if that constitutes a violation of copyright laws.” Rameshwari Photocopy Service was started within the college premises in the early 1990s on the orders of the then director. It operates on a licence which is renewed every year. 

Ripple effect

The crackdown on the photocopy shop has had a ripple effect on photocopy shops across North Campus. Photocopy shops lined up near Patel Chest Institute deny having any knowledge of these course packs and have stopped photocopying textbooks and other study material, insisting they only photocopy documents and written notes, and print out material as required by their customers. Photocopy shops elsewhere in the campus have also ceased selling such material.

This is a big blow for students. There is a consensus among students that there is a need for such facilities because libraries are not well stocked. Libraries in Delhi University receive their funds from the University Grants Commission (UGC). These funds are not enough to provide multiple copies of books to students, across disciplines, across the University. The Ratan Tata Library in Delhi School Of Economics is one of the better stocked libraries in Delhi University. It received a substantial amount of money from the  Central government in the last Union budget in addition to UGC grant. But even here, several textbooks are photocopies of original books. “The library is planning to throw these photocopies out. When we asked them to give it to us instead, they refused,” says Rhea John, who is pursuing a master's degree in sociology at the college.

Supurna Dasgupta, student, Delhi University  
'Targeting one shop is not the way to end piracy'
-Supurna Dasgupta, student, Delhi University  
Manpreet Kaur, who teaches English at St Stephen’s college, says, “I don’t think you can graduate in this university without extra-material because libraries are not equipped. Suing one photocopying shop is the wrong way of going about it. The publishers and the university could perhaps come up with deals, online access, etc. to address this demand.” Echoing a similar sentiment, Supurna Dasgupta, who is pursuing a master’s degree in English at the university, says, “You can’t stop piracy by targeting one shop. It’s just going to happen at home now where people can scan and distribute or download entire books.”

Is photocopying by students unlawful?

Access to knowledge banks seems to be foremost on the minds of those affected by the court case. The disruption of access to study material has sparked an active discussion on Facebook, where students and teachers alike are planning a course of action against this move. At a meeting at Delhi School of Economics on August 29, group of concerned students decided that a petition would be submitted to the authorities to draw attention  to the plight of students. Another appeal at the online petition site change,org urges the publishers to withdraw the copyright case against Delhi University and Rameshwari Photocopy Service. The petition states: “We the students and academics feel this move will hurt the critical learning space and democratic norms in the university…Most students are on a shoestring budget and photocopying enables them to read and accrue knowledge which would otherwise not be possible.”

Photocopy shops in the Delhi University are the lifeline of students who cannot afford to buy expensive books prescribed for reading under Delhi University syllabi
Copyright Laws in the United States and the United Kingdom place severe restrictions on the amount of matter that can be photocopied from books without permission from the publishers. The fair use exception or fair dealings exception (in the UK) legalises certain acts, while placing quantitative restrictions. This is what enables course packs to be compiled in universities abroad. The Copyright Licensing Agency in the UK provides strict guidelines for the compilation of such course packs so that they do not replace textbooks altogether. The Indian Copyright Act allows for fair dealing of any work (with the exception of computer programmes) for academic and research purposes and places no quantitative restrictions. This is indicative of the government’s aim to make educational material accessible to a large section of the population.

Rajshree Chandra Ahuja, a political scientist who has worked on copyright laws, argues that this issue is not merely “a matter of access; access should be a matter of right for students, overriding economic entitlements of the publishers. Education and its dissemination cannot be a preserve of people who can afford it.” In India, Section 52 (1) (i) allows for “the reproduction of any work by a teacher or a pupil in the course of instruction”, while 52 (1) (a) allows for fair dealing with any work (with the exception of computer programmes) for the purpose of private or personal use, including research work. Ahuja says that “under current circumstances, Section 52 seems broad enough o facilitate the present system of course pack dissemination. It does not impose quantifiable restrictions. But this ambiguity ought to be retained rather than fixed, where fair use is not defined by the copyright law, but social welfare considerations. 

Ashley N P, Faculty member, St Stephen's College  
'Publishers should rethink processes to suit average Indian students'
--Ashley N P, Faculty member,
St Stephen's College
Lawyers at Anand and Anand, one of the leading firms that deal with patent and trademark matters, say that publishers have a strong claim against Rameshwari Photocopy Services. “Fair use usually applies to academic, charitable, and pro bono cases. But as one delves deeper into the laws, there are numerous restrictions in the category of education and academics.” This case, they feel, is one in which the demarcation between fair use and commercialisation must be identified.

Possible solutions

Many feel that an engagement between the university and publishers is needed to address the problem. Ashley N P, who teaches at St Stephen’s College says: “The issue of photocopying needs to be understood in the context of uneven distribution of capital. You can’t speak about the issue only in legal terms. There is a huge gap in the knowledge bank available to students in American universities and students here. Students are not at par not because of lack of talent, but access to material. Unless companies are ready to rethink process to suit the Indian average student, they can’t make money selling those books to them. Photocopying will have to serve a purpose.”  Devika Narayan, an MPhil student of sociology at Delhi School of Economics, says the university could acquire licences from the publishers to make these resources available to students. “Students shouldn’t have to study only books published in India just because they are cheaper,” she adds.

Will the court give a thought to the students' plight?


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