Delhi University shop can sell photocopies of textbooks, rules high court

Delhi Hight Court says photocopying and creation of course packs by educational institutions is covered under provisions of the Indian Copyright Act, 1957


The Delhi high court had passed an interim stay order restraining the shop from selling copies of compiled course books to students in October 2012. Photo:iStockphoto
The Delhi high court had passed an interim stay order restraining the shop from selling copies of compiled course books to students in October 2012. Photo:iStockphoto

New Delhi: In a victory for students, the Delhi high court on Friday dismissed a plea by a group of international publishers seeking to restrain a shop in Delhi University (DU) from selling photocopies of textbooks and course material.

“The plea is dismissed,” said Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, as he pronounced the verdict. Now, students will be able to buy photocopies of textbooks and course material for university exams.

The landmark verdict, which has set a precedent for the applicability of copyright law in educational cases in India, held that “copyright in a literary work is not an inevitable, divine or natural right” conferred on an author. It added that the copyright law is intended to increase and not impede knowledge.

The 94-page ruling observed that photocopying and creation of course packs to be used in the course of education by students is covered under provisions of the Copyright Act, 1957.

The legal battle began in August 2012, when publishers including Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor and Francis Group brought a case of copyright infringement against Rameshwari Photocopy Service, a licensed vendor in DU’s north campus.

The publishing houses claimed the sale of compilations of parts of books in the form of course packs to students is illegal and in violation of the provisions of the Indian Copyright Act.

The court had passed an interim stay order restraining the shop from selling copies of compiled course books to students in October 2012.

Although the case was specifically against Rameshwari Photocopy Service, other photocopy shops in the vicinity also stopped the sale of such course packs due to fear of being dragged to court.

“Even though the judge takes note of various international judgments quoted during the arguments, he makes it clear that he will not blindly rely on any of them... He notes that Indian law has to take account of the unique socioeconomic context of India, such as our resource constraints.

“The judge makes clear our statutory provision (Section 52(1)(i) of the Copyright Act, 1957, is broad enough to cover the acts of the university and its photocopier. And that the provision must be given a wide enough interpretation to further a social good such as education,” Shamnad Basheer, intellectual property rights expert and founder of IP blog SpicyIP said.

Holding students’ interest paramount, the ruling concentrates on the aspect of affordability of low-cost textbooks through photocopying. It also recognizes the importance of technological advancement, while holding that through photocopying, students can obtain voluminous course material at a low cost and are not required to copy each page, which cannot be held as an offence.

Today’s ruling, however, seemed to defeat the interests of publishers, said Sumeet Malik, director of EBC Publishing Pvt. Ltd/Eastern Book Co. Pvt. Ltd. “Even in today’s world of self-publishing, blogs, etc., the publisher remains relevant because of its role to be able to provide reliability and authenticity to the information and knowledge it disseminates.” Why would a publisher invest if they are not able to get returns due to practices such as photocopying? The very purpose of publishing is defeated if publishing is not sustainable and publishers are not able to make money, he added.

In order to protect their rights, students had set up the Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge (ASEAK). The association, while highlighting students’ suffering due to the stay order, told the court that it was not possible for them to continue studying without photocopied notes as very few of them could afford to buy new books.

Apoorva Gautam, president of ASEAK and a former DU student, said, “I am happy the court has addressed the students’ concerns, considering we are a resource-crunched country. We had taken the position that a student’s right to such material has been provided for under the copyright law and restricting it would be unreasonable and the court has upheld that.”

In a joint statement, Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and Taylor and Francis said, “We brought this case to protect authors, publishers and students from the potential effects on the Indian academic and educational book market caused by the widespread creation and distribution of unlicensed course packs by a copy shop operating from within the premises of the university, where a legitimate and affordable licensing scheme is already in place. It is unfortunate that the court’s decision could undermine the availability of original content for the benefit of students and teachers.”

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