Copyright or Copy’wrong’?: Publishing Industry vs Delhi University

For the last few weeks, students and faculty all across Delhi have been up in arms against Oxford University Press (OUP), Cambridge University Press (CUP) and Taylor & Francis Group. It would seem that Delhi University has been recommending certain chapters and excerpts from various books printed by the OUP, CUP and Taylor & Francis Group as course work in the different courses it has to offer. The photocopy shops in turn combine these chapters and excerpts into one single ‘course pack’ and sell it to the students at a profit. The end result is cheap and it contains everything a student would need to fare well in his or her exams.

Claiming a loss in revenue and profits, the publishing giants are now suing both Delhi University and Rameshwari Photocopy Service, located on the Delhi School of Economics campus, citing copyright infringement. The lawsuit, which was filed in April, has angered students and faculty from the many colleges in Delhi. Reported extensively in newspapers, students are outraged by OUP and CUP’s move to stop the photocopying of books or pages of books that have been published under the OUP and CUP name. They have set up a Facebook page – Campaign to Save D School Photocopy Shop – on which they have listed their demands. As a reaction to the legal case against both Delhi University and Rameshwari Photocopy Service, students are demanding that the case be revoked immediately else the three publishing houses, namely OUP, CUP and Taylor & Francis, will be boycotted from campus. The page also demands that if the case is not withdrawn, they will work on providing open source methods for free dissemination of knowledge.

There are many arguments against the lawsuit filed by the big publishing houses. The main argument is that the books themselves are exorbitantly priced. Many students studying in Delhi University come from economically weaker backgrounds. They cannot afford the books that have been recommended by the Delhi University for course work. It is also very impractical to purchase a book when all that is needed is one excerpt or chapter of the book. The libraries in the University have one or a maximum of two copies of the books that are recommended reading and, so, course readings are very hard to come by.

In all these arguments, the main issue is being sidestepped. What the photocopy shop as well as Delhi University condone as routine behavior seems to be grey territory when it comes to India’s Copyright Act of 1957. Under this Act, there are certain instances and circumstances where the copyright policy might be waived. One such instance gives both teachers and students the right to reproduce literary work “in the course of instruction”. According to this, what the photocopy shops are doing is under legal rights. What is not legal is the sale of these literary works or ‘course packs’ for profit. It also undermines the very idea of the Copyright Law: to protect the publisher as well as the author so that they may continue to produce work. What would be the incentive for the publisher or the author to publish and write more academic books when they are getting little or nothing in return?

It is obvious that the publishing industry must have some out-of-the-box ideas to promote their own sales. While one can argue that lowering of prices to the right amount might be a start, what exactly constitutes that right amount? Would a student be willing to dish out Rs 100 or Rs 200 per book? Or does it have to be cheaper? And why should authors of academic books keep writing if they are getting nothing in return? We have to remember that an author gets royalty only on the books that are sold. No books sold = no money for the author = no books for academia? Publishing houses should and must adapt to the Indian market. They can offer students an incentive to buy their books or can produce the ‘course pack’ themselves. But then, where does it leave the photocopywala?

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