Publishers say photocopying copyrighted work for distribution to public illegal

A group of international publishers tells Delhi HC that the defence of ‘fair use’ of information under copyright law could not be taken as it would not apply in this situation


The legal tussle began in August 2012, when international publishers brought a case of copyright infringement against Rameshwari Photocopy Services. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
The legal tussle began in August 2012, when international publishers brought a case of copyright infringement against Rameshwari Photocopy Services. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

New Delhi: Reproduction of copyrighted work for distribution to the public is not legally permissible and would amount to infringement under the law, a group of international publishers told the Delhi high court on Tuesday.

A bench headed by justice Pradeep Nadrajog was hearing an appeal against a single judge’s order which allowed Rameshwari Photocopy Services, a shop in Delhi University (DU) campus, to sell course packs using material published by international publishers including Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor and Francis Group.

Highlighting alleged fallacies in the order passed by justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, the publishers told the court that the defence of “fair use” of information under copyright law could not be taken as it would not apply in this situation.

“The doctrine of fair use would be applicable in a situation where a teacher or student reproduced certain topics for their use; however, it cannot be done by a university,” senior advocate Sudhir Chandra said, appearing on behalf of the publishers.

He added that in the present case, photocopying was “not being done for philanthropic purposes” as the university had provided the photocopier with the publishers’ books from which relevant extracts could be used for preparing the course packs, in return for which the university would get 3,000 pages free of cost for its use.

Justice Nandrajog assessed the situation as one where the two values of public good and authors’ rights needed to be balanced. He held that this must not be seen as a conflict between public interest and right of authors and that boundaries for each needed to be set.

It was further contended that interpretation of copyright law had to be done in context intended under the Copyright Act, 1957 and the view taken by the single judge was contrary to the provisions of the Act.

The publishers also opposed such photocopying being allowed and said it would wipe out the basis of copyright as a whole.

“Who will have the incentive to write if such back-to-back photocopying is allowed? It would render all copyrighted work to be meaningless,” Chandra submitted.

The legal tussle began in August 2012, when international publishers brought a case of copyright infringement against Rameshwari Photocopy Services, a licenced 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.

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.

On 16 September, setting a precedent for applicability of copyright in education matters, justice Endlaw dismissed a plea by a group of international publishers seeking to restrain Rameshwari Photocopy Service from selling photocopies of textbooks and course materials.

Consequently, students buying photocopies of textbooks and course materials for university exams was held to be within confines of the Copyright Act, 1957.

The case will continue to be heard on 30 November.

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