An Indian court has thrown out an attempt by a student organisation to allow private campus-based photocopying shops to create bound, near-complete copies of course books, in a case that may have set a national precedent.
On 25 April, the Delhi High Court rejected an appeal by the Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge, or ASEAK, to overturn an August 2012 decision preventing a photocopy shop in the University of Delhi’s school of economics from undertaking this work.
Specifically, it had been told not to make course packs including a ‘substantial portion’ of books published by Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis.
These academic book publishers are suing Rameshwari Photocopy Services for damages of US$150,000 for commercial exploitation of their copyrighted material.
The case sparked countrywide protests from students, who launched an online signature campaign.
In March, the court recognised the newly formed ASEAK as a defendant. But now the court has rejected its appeal and further hearings will be heard on applicable damages, with the shop having the chance to argue its case once again.
It is possible that the court might then decide to allow photocopying, but in the meantime this work has been suspended.
The student and academic view
“We are not getting our reading material as it has become very difficult to get books photocopied on the university campus,” said Apoorva Gautam, ASEAK’s president and a masters student at Delhi School of Economics, or DSE.
“Reading through photocopy is not the cheapest way, (but) often it is the only way available to us,” Gautam told University World News, emphasising that many academic books are not available for sale in India, even if students could afford them.
The students are being backed by academics.
Pulin Nayak, an economics professor at DSE, said that with students being asked to refer to several books, securing original copies could be a significant financial burden, with Indian textbooks costing US$10 or more while imports exceeded US$30. “Very often it is not the entire book that is needed, sometimes just one or two chapters,” he said.
Anupama Ramakrishnan, an MPhil student at DSE and a member of ASEAK, claimed that publishers were treating India as a cash cow.
“For these international publishers, India has become a new market. They do not want to invest any intellectual energy in producing new books here, and just want to make money from their old books.” She claimed that any restriction on photocopying books would damage the rights of students to an education.
After speaking to University World News, a spokesperson for Oxford University Press India highlighted a UK Publishers Association statement, clarifying that “through this court case we have sought to challenge the illegal duplication of copyrighted material for sale by a commercial photocopying shop, not the validity of the ‘fair dealing’ exceptions to the [UK] Copyright Act”.
The critical question in this case is the status of Rameshwari Photocopy Services.
Dharam Pal Singh, the owner of the shop, told University World News that he was operating essentially as an official photocopier for DSE, and whatever study material he photocopied was decided by the college faculty.
“Teachers provide me books with a direction on the specific chapters that have to be copied and compiled as course packs,” he said. “Students are told to purchase those packs from our shop and we charge only our usual photocopy price of one US cent per page.”
However, Singh has international and domestic publishers to fight. Although the case was filed by British publishers, the Indian publishing sector is fully behind them.
Sudhir Malhotra, president of the Federation of Indian Publishers, said that India’s 2012 copyright law mandated the intellectual property rights owners have and that they must receive compensatory revenue for photocopying.
He explained that the new law specifically recognises that the rights of intellectual property rights owners are to be protected “and in any commercial exploitation, the rights owners must get a part of the revenues”.
Licences for Indian photocopying rights are issued by the Indian Reprographic Rights Organisation, or IRRO, which issued a statement on 25 April saying:
“We don’t wish to block student’s access to copyrighted works, and we support affordable legal access to copyright educational material as well as course packs for students within the legal framework of the country.”
However, confusion prevails over just what copying and publisher compensation is appropriate.
Anand Bhushan, IRRO secretary general, told University World News that its annual photocopying licence fee for colleges and institutes within a university are very reasonable and range from US$220-US$880, and many colleges have already taken such a licence.
However, he clarified that these licences do not allow an independent photocopy shop, such as Rameshwari, to sell course material. “For them a licence fee is US$5,500 or 40% of the total revenue.”