If you have been following the recent copyright dispute between a group of publishers and Delhi University, you will acknowledge that the case primarily concerns three groups: (1) the publishers (2) authors, and (3) end users themselves (including universities, academics, research scholars, professors and students). But with the vehement objections from both authors and students to the publishers’ move against the university, raising concerns about restrictions on access to knowledge, perhaps it is time for the Government of India to seriously consider the potentially detrimental impact of this case on the future of Indian education and academia, and implead itself as a party to the suit immediately.
For example, below is a letter written by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen in a correspondence with Nivedita Menon, Professor at JNU expressing his deep distress at the decision of the publishers to initiate legal action for producing photocopied course packs:
CONCERN EXPRESSED BY AMARTYA SEN ON THE RECENT LITIGATION INITIATED BY PUBLISHERS
I am very distressed to learn, via my friend Partha Chatterjee, about the attitude of the OUP on the use of photocopied course packs for the benefit of students. I do not sign joint letters, but I would like to state that I am personally distressed, as an OUP author, to learn about this policy decision. I hope something can be done to make the academic arrangements for the education of students less difficult and more sensible.
With best wishes,
OTHER OUP AUTHORS ENDORSE LETTER OPPOSING PUBLISHERS’ MOVE
Most significantly however, the endorsement comes from authors whose works have been allegedly ‘infringed’ by the distribution of course packs to students. When the authors themselves do not see the sense in such a move, the decision of the publishers to go ahead with this suit, rests on shaky ground – both on moral and economic considerations.
The moral considerations stem from the fact that the publishers’ proposal for obtaining licences from the IRRO will substantially increase the educational expenses of students in India, making no exception for those students coming from impoverished backgrounds. As such, there is something to be said about their chosen target – students, when there are already several organised piracy rackets in existence across the country, which should ideally be their prime focus. The economic consideration that seems to have been lost on the publishers is is simply that course packs are a form of advertisement for the books themselves. Think of a law student who has benefited immensely from the prescribed reading material in a course pack. Isn’t it safe to assume that the same student will purchase the book in its entirety when he/she decides to set up his/her own law practice?
The letter endorsed by the authors is reproduced in its entirety below:
“It has come to our attention that the Univ. of Oxford Press along with the Univ. Of Cambridge Press has filed a petition in the Delhi High court claiming copyright infringement by Rameshwari Photocopy Services along with Delhi University as codefendant. We are given to believe that the infringement that has been claimed is with respect to course packs that are used as a part of various social science subjects including history, politics, economics, sociology etc. It has come to our notice that books that we have either authored, edited or contributed to are a part of the list of infringing materials.
As authors and educators, we would like to place on record our distress at this act of the publishers as we believe that academic publishers such as Oxford and Cambridge play a crucial role in promoting the dissemination of academic works. While it is certainly in the interest of authors and publishers to sell as many copies of the book as possible, we have to 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. In that situation then next best thing would have been for multiple copies of the book to be available in the library so that students are able to access these books without any difficulty. But given the constraints that libraries in India work with they are often forced to keep a single copy of the book and in many instances there may not even be a single copy of the book available in the library. The reason that we make course packs is to ensure that students have access to the most relevant portions of the book without which we would be seriously compromising their education.
We believe that these course packs fall very much within the ambit of statutory limitations to copyright and in particular are covered under Sec. 52 of the Copyright Act. Sec. 52(1)(i) allows for ‘the reproduction of any work by a teacher or a pupil in the course of instruction’ or as a part of questions or answers to questions. Sec. 52(1)(a) allows for a fair dealing with any work (except computer programs) for the purposes of private or personal use, including research.
In most countries in the world there are copyright exceptions made for educational uses and this is most critical in developing countries in which costs of books are exorbitant. We are sympathetic to your concerns about the illegal sharing of books, but we do believe that targeting course packs and photocopiers who operate within a university may be chasing the wrong target. In addition to course packs being absolutely legal we also believe that these course packs serve as advertisements for the books themselves, and it is only by allowing the use of these extracts can we hope to enthuse students to buy the entire book at a future date. It is unfortunate that you would choose to alienate teachers and students who are indeed your main readers and we urge you to consider withdrawing this petition”.
List of OUP Authors who have endorsed the above letter:
1. Pratap Bhanu Mehta (Director, CPR, Delhi)
2. Zoya Hasan, Professor (CPS/JNU)
3. Partha Chatterjee (Professor, Columbia University, New York and CSSS Kolkata)
4. Sanjay Seth (Professor, Goldsmith College, London)
5. Valerian Rodrigues (Professor, CPS/JNU)
6. Christophe Jaffrelot (Professor, CERI, Paris)
7. Thomas Blom Hansen (Professor, Stanford University)
8. Anuradha Chenoy (Professor, School of International Studies, JNU)
(Note: This is only a tentative list of endorsements made- several authors have expressed their support for this letter – the final updated list will be published soon).
STUDENT BODIES PROTEST MOVE, MAKE REPRESENTATIONS TO THE GOVERNMENT
Perhaps the best way to comprehend the real-world impact of this case is to examine the views of students themselves. It is becoming increasingly clear that the biggest objection to this litigation is the adverse impact it will have on the ability of students to access essential reading material without having to purchase several different books for a few chapters from each.
SpicyIP has procured the petitions drafted by two student body organisations – the National Students’ Union of India and the Student Bar Association. Both student bodies have, in their petitions, explained the applicable legal provisions that support the legality of photocopying course packs and extol the virtues of this practice in ensuring quality education in Indian universities. Thus, they call upon the Government of India to implead itself in this suit, to ensure that the educational safeguard in the Indian Copyright Act, is not diluted.
The full text of the National Students’ Union of India petition can be viewed here.
The full text of the Student Bar Association petition can be viewed here.
(Note: I have been informed that several other higher educational institutions, academics and professors are also in the process of drafting similar petitions. I will post an update on this, with the full list in the coming week)
WHOSE INTERESTS ARE REALLY BEING PROTECTED?
All of this raises a very simple question – who really is benefiting from this litigation? If its not the authors who have actually written these books, nor the students who are clearly unhappy with the unnecessary restrictions on access to knowledge that this case threatens to impose, then one really needs to step back and examine the interests at stake, a little more at length.
Perhaps it is time to re-examine the business of academic publishing in India itself and whether it could be the source of the problem and the solution to this needless dispute. Hopefully we can receive some insights from individuals in the business itself to consider this issue in greater depth.
To conclude – on one side we have students, academics, professors and authors opposing the move of the publishers wholeheartedly. On the other, we have the publishers themselves trying to protect their commercial interests. It is for this reason that I found this quote (going as far back as 1996) to be highly relevant:
“When we talk about copyright, we need to remember that we aren’t talking about authors versus readers. We’re talking about the interests of corporations versus the interests of the public”. –
– Karen Coyle (August 7, 1996) available here.
What is unmistakably clear however is that the Delhi University photocopying case is quickly becoming a national issue, and with the ‘interests of the public’ at stake, it is an opportune moment for the Government of India to intervene, weigh the benefits to the publishers against the harm to students and education in India, and give this case the proper treatment it deserves.