New Delhi: It was just another day on the campus of the Delhi School of Economics (DSE); except that a small shop, Rameshwari Photocopy Service, tucked near the institute’s canteen won a four-year legal battle against international publishers.
On Friday, the Delhi high court restored the shop’s right to provide students with photocopies of course packs.
One would expect a shop that was sued for $1 million by international publishers to at least have a signboard. Not so, says the owner of Rameshwari Photocopy, Dharam Pal Singh. “Board ki kya zarurat hai, Madam? Sabko pata hai." (What’s the need for a sign board, Madam? Everybody knows it.)
Singh, 45, has been running the shop equipped with four photocopy machines for the last 20 years. But a legal notice in August of 2012 came to him as a shock. The notice informed Singh that a group of international publishers, including Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor and Francis Group, had brought a lawsuit in the Delhi high court alleging copyright infringement through sale of photocopied course packs to students.
It was clear, Singh said, that his shop was targeted because it was famous.
On 17 October 2012, the Delhi high court passed an order restraining Singh from selling photocopied compilation of study material to students.
Explaining the issue, Singh pulled out a course pack used by law students studying at the Faculty of Law, Delhi University. “There are a large number of case laws including international case laws which the students have been prescribed to study. We try to help them by compiling from different books and selling it to them at affordable rates.
We only take few chapters from a particular book, around 40-50 pages, which is permissible under the law. According to me, that should not amount to copyright infringement as the purpose of academic publishing is never to make profits."
Publishers, however, contest this. They claim it is incorrect to say that academic publishing is a non-profit venture.
Anirudh Wadhwa, partner at Wadhwa law chambers and editor of several law publications, said: “Academic publishing is not a charity. University affiliated publishing houses (like Oxford University, Cambridge University Press) are an extension of the respective universities which own and control them and any money that they make, belongs to the university.
Making of photocopied course packs makes it easy for students but the publishers/authors deserve to be compensated where the content used is beyond a fair threshold. The judgment allowing photocopying of entire chapters from an academic text, in my opinion, crosses the line of fair use and has ignored the publishers’ side of the story."
According to Singh, international publishers used this case as a testing ground for applicability of copyright law in education. “The publishers needed a starting point, wanted to test the probability of winning such a case. If they had won against us, they would have implemented it on every other shop on campus...
As the case progressed, support from university teachers, students and academicians poured in. The Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge fought for students rights in the courtroom while renowned lawyers including copyright expert, Lawrence Liang, offered support.
“I received a lot of support from students, teachers, lawyers etc. Without their help, it wouldn’t have been possible to win against big publishing houses," Singh said.
Despite all the support, he still had to engage his own lawyer because of some technical issues.
The courts’ initial restraining order particularly affected Rameshwari Photocopy as it began to lose out to other photocopy shops which had initially stopped offering photocopying services of course material but continued to sell the course packs later.
He considers the Delhi high court’s ruling as his personal victory since the students weren’t as much affected.
While photocopying at one shop was restricted, students found other ways to get notes photocopied. “If I refuse to photocopy, students have the option to approach some other shop in the nearby colleges including law faculty, Hindu, St. Stephens, etc. There are around 300-400 machines outside this college which the students can use," he added.
Rajat Kumar, a student pursuing an M. Phil. degree in Sociology from DSE, is unaware of the long legal battle. “Students were not really affected during the four years that the case was being heard. We usually took pictures of notes on our phones or on a pen drive and got it printed from some other shop," said Kumar.