Breaking News: OUP and other Publishers Withdraw Copyright Suit Against Delhi University and Photocopier

In a stunning development, OUP, CUP and Taylor & Francis just withdrew their copyright law suit filed against Delhi University (and its photocopier, Rameshwari) 5 years ago! They indicated this to the Delhi high court in a short and succinct filing made this morning.

This withdrawal brings to an end one of the most hotly contested IP battles ever, pitting as it did multinational publishers against academics and students. The law suit was filed as far back as 2012 and it dragged on for 5 long years!

For those interested, a brief timeline of the dispute is as below:

  1. Leading publishers sue Delhi University (DU) and Rameshwari for copyright infringement in 2012. Alleging that the creation and distribution of course packs containing excerpted copyright content violates copyrights in several of their books.
  2. Delhi high court immediately grants interim injunction in favour of publishers, preventing DU and Rameshwari from photocopying and creating/distributing course-packs.
  3. A society of students (ASEAK) and academics (SPEAK) intervene in the dispute and are heard by the court.
  4. The Delhi high court hears the main matter on merits and rules in favour of DU and students, holding that the photocopying for the purpose of creating educational course packs falls within the bounds of the educational exception in the indian copyright act (section 52(1)(i)).
  5. Publishers appeal to the division bench of the Delhi high court. While taking issue with some of the findings of the trial judge, the division bench nonetheless upholds the ultimate finding that the photocopying is covered under the terms of the educational exception contained in section 52(1)(i) of India’s Copyright Act. The court however rules that each instance of photocopying has to be tested individually against the terms of section 52(1)(i) which mandates that copying has to be “in the course of educational instruction”.
  6. Therefore, the Delhi Division bench remands the matter back to the single judge of delhi (trial court) to decide whether each of the alleged instances of copyright fell within the bounds of the educational exceptional or not
  7. IRRO (a collecting society of publishers) files an application to be impleaded in the Delhi trial court. Court refuses and the IRRO appeals to the division bench
  8. Publishers file an application this morning asking that suit be withdrawn.

So those of you expecting some fireworks at the Supreme Court, this is it! End of an era. End of a saga. But one that ultimately tested the bounds of copyright law in India. And clarified that while educational photocopying is permissible, there are limits to this as well. And that any copying must comport closely with the intended purpose (“in the course of instruction”). In that sense, publishers have made some gains in at least ensuring that a complete free for all regime is not what is intended by the law. But a circumspect one, where the copying has to fall within the bounds of the educational exception.

Overall, this is a huge victory for educational access and public interest in India. And very welcome in a world that was witnessing a rather one sided ratcheting up of IP norms, at the cost of all else! One hopes that the coming years will see a more progressive partnership between publishers and academics/students and the embracing of newer models of creation and content distribution, open access and the like.

ps: For those interested, all our posts on this case can be found here.

Shamnad Basheer

Prof. (Dr.) Shamnad Basheer founded SpicyIP in 2005. He's also the Founder of IDIA, a project to train underprivileged students for admissions to the leading law schools. He served for two years as an expert on the IP global advisory council (GAC) of the World Economic Forum (WEF). In 2015, he received the Infosys Prize in Humanities in 2015 for his work on legal education and on democratising the discourse around intellectual property law and policy. The jury was headed by Nobel laureate, Prof. Amartya Sen. Professional History: After graduating from the NLS, Bangalore Prof. Basheer joined Anand and Anand, one of India’s leading IP firms. He went on to head their telecommunication and technology practice and was rated by the IFLR as a leading technology lawyer. He left for the University of Oxford to pursue post-graduate studies, completing the BCL, MPhil and DPhil as a Wellcome Trust scholar. His first academic appointment was at the George Washington University Law School, where he served as the Frank H Marks Visiting Associate Professor of IP Law. He then relocated to India in 2008 to take up the MHRD Chaired Professorship in IP Law at WB NUJS, a leading Indian law school. Later, he was the Honorary Research Chair of IP Law at Nirma University and also a visiting professor of law at the National Law School (NLS), Bangalore. Prof. Basheer has published widely and his articles have won awards, including those instituted by ATRIP, the Stanford Technology Law Review and CREATe. He was consulted widely by the government, industry, international organisations and civil society on a variety of IP issues. He also served on several government committees.

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