Several publishers, including Oxford University Press (OUP), Cambridge University Press (CUP) and the Taylor & Francis Group, are suing Delhi University, as well as a photocopying shop near the Delhi School of Economics, for selling copies of books published by the group, demanding over $110,000 in damages.
They claim that these widely used copies, for which no royalties are paid, have had a significant income on the revenue of their publishing houses, and the earnings of their authors.
However, in an open letter to the publishers, over 300 academics, 33 of whom are named in the lawsuit, have criticised the action, saying that it undermines Indian academia and students’ ability to study.
The “course packs” sold by the Rameshwari Photocopy Service contain copies of the recommended chapters for various courses offered at Delhi University. They offer a much cheaper alternative to students than purchasing the books individually, as the university libraries frequently possess insufficient copies of the recommended texts.
Condemning the action of the publishers, the letter highlights the stretched resources of the Indian education system: “As authors and educators, we would like to place on record our distress at this act of the publishers, as we recognize the fact that in a country like India marked by sharp economic inequalities, it is often not possible for every student to obtain a personal copy of a book.”
The letter also states that the publishers may be legally in the wrong. According to UK copyright law, a work may be reproduced by a teacher or pupil for educational purposes. As the copying shop under fire was producing the packs in agreement with Delhi University, it may secure a loophole on these grounds.
The director of CUP India, Manas Saikia, commented to Al Jazeera that: “where course packs are available, our books stop selling – even libraries stop buying multiple copies…[This affects] the income of authors and returns to publishers.”
There has been major student outcry in reaction to the lawsuit, and a Facebook campaign against the ban of “course packs” at Delhi has gathered over 2000 members, as well as staging several protests.
Devika Narayan, a sociology student at the Delhi School of Economics commented that: “The case has really had an adverse impact on students as photocopying on campus has declined. The books listed in our syllabi are essential for our research and coursework are completely unaffordable. Photocopying is a necessity not a luxury and we believe our usage of this service is not something to be apologetic about. Education is a public good and it is indeed shocking that OUP (which makes grand claims about its commitment to the spread of knowledge on its website) would file a case against a small photocopy shop which is authorised by the university to provide material to students.”
Since the photocopying of texts is a widespread practice in India, critics have noted the strangeness of taking to task this one particular photocopying shop. A likely motive of the action, some have ventured, is to ensure legislation that requires institutions to possess a license in order to make copies, similar to the systems in Canada and the UK.
However, there are concerns that such action would make access to textbooks prohibitively expensive for India’s burgeoning student population.
Whilst cases such as these can take years to come through the Indian judicial system, the debate this action has provoked is ongoing, and may have wider implications for the global publishing industry.
PHOTO / Remi Mathis