Who's afraid of photocopying?

In his own words, 40 year-old Dharampal Singh has gone from being a useful figure in an average Delhi University (DU) student’s life to someone “who is simply killing time” near the campus. Well, he is famous — or notorious, some foreign publishers would claim — for different reasons right now, but that certainly isn’t helping, he says. “I don’t have much to do,” he says over the telephone from Delhi. “Running a tea shop could, perhaps, bring me more money than photocopying now,” he says in Hindi.

On October 10, as part of the campaign, ‘Who Is Afraid of Copyright Infringement’, professors and authors photocopied their works and distributed signed copies to Delhi University students. Pic courtesy/Vasundhara Jairath

To copy or not to copy?
In August, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis filed a lawsuit against Singh’s Rameshwari Photocopy Services located in The Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University, north Delhi, accusing it of copyright infringement and creating pirated versions of their books. Singh says that he has been photocopying course packs for DU students for the past five to six years, and does not know what hit him.

Worse, last week, on October 17, the Delhi High Court granted an injunction on the course pack photocopies. A course pack of a particular subject is a photocopied compilation of chapters from numerous reference books (sometimes 50 books, says Singh), which are a part of the syllabus.

“I charge Rs 40 paise for a photocopied page, and until this stay order, I photocopied almost 25,000 pages a day, because every student on this campus needs the course packs (each costs between Rs 200-250). Now, I barely photocopy 4,000 pages a day — documents, letters and so on — never educational books. I am not even making 1/8th of the money I used to make.”

It is not just Singh who is suffering at DU — students are in a fix over sourcing study material, too. “On Thursday, a day after the HC injunction, a father of a visually-challenged student needed a course pack, and knew nothing about this case. He actually thought I was refusing him the course pack and began explaining how he cannot afford the books on the study list; neither could his daughter spend hours in the library reading the books. Does the court have answers to questions like these?”

‘Education impossible without photocopying’
Singh isn’t the only one asking questions — DU students and professors of DU and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), who also support the cause, say they refuse to buy the stand of the publishers in the first place. The publishers claim that the photocopying must stop for the sake of the authors who contribute to the academic books in question, a stand that Satish Deshpande, a Sociology professor at DU, says he just doesn’t get. “The arguments given by the publishers are not convincing. Higher education of good quality is impossible without photocopying. In the public mind, academic publishing is being confused with artistic works (music, film and so on) where authors live off their royalties. Royalties are insignificant for academic authors who are actually supported by public universities and research institutes. This case will not benefit academic authors — for us, a wider readership is always preferable to copyright restrictions,” says professor Deshpande.

On October 10, Deshpande was one of the authors who participated in the campaign to support Singh and his photocopying shop at DU. ‘Who Is Afraid Of Copyright Infringement’ at DU was attended by students, writers, academicians and authors who marked their support by photocopying their books and distributing signed copies to students. Among those who attended were Radhika Singh, Zoya Hasan, Uma Chakravarty, Arundhati Roy (who sent her signed photocopied book to the protest site) and JNU professor Nivedita Menon.

“As an academician, I was a part of the campaign to show solidarity toward Singh, and I am shocked at the Delhi HC’s injunction. Has anyone thought that course packs replace the bad quality, low-grade guide books out in the market? Course packs fall within the purview of the Indian Copyright Law, which is a much better law than ones in other countries because it has more educational exemptions — which we, as a developing country, badly need,” says Menon.

Protected by the law
Menon is referring to Section 52 (1) (i) of the Copyright Act, which is significant in this case because it does not impose quantitative restrictions on the reproduction of works in the course of instruction by teachers and students (which legalises photocopies related to academic notes). Section 52 (a) (1) allows fairdealing with any work for private or personal use, including research.

The injunction, adds Menon, shows lack of understanding of the issue and does not take an average Indian student’s profile into account. “Apart from us academicians and Arundhati Roy, Amartya Sen — who does not sign joint letters — sent a signed letter to the publishers expressing his support to the cause. “Authors’ livelihoods are met by universities — not by the royalties of publishers. This is our stand towards publishers who value corporate profits over education,” says Menon. When asked whether there could be alternatives to this issue — like Indian publications entering the market and publishing the authors involved in the issue (which will turn out to be cheaper for students), Menon says she wouldn’t want to look at alternatives because she and her students are protected under the law.

Professor JM Khurana, Dean (Student’s Welfare) at DU, when contacted, claims he has no idea about the case at all. This, in spite of Vasundhara Jairath, a 26 year-old Sociology student who is doing her Ph D at the DU, saying that she has sent professor Khurana copies of petitions signed by students against the publishers. And for thousands like her, the matter is far from over. Following the Delhi HC’s injunction, lawyer Lawrence Liang of Alt Law Forum (ALF) will soon file an intervention on behalf of the students. ALF, started in March 2000, is a collective of lawyers who felt the need for an alternative practice of law because they recognise that its practice is inherently political.

The key players in this case, says Liang, are not the publishers — not even Singh’s shop at DU — it is the students, whose interests he wishes to protect. “The fair dealing provision in the Indian copyright law is an enabling mechanism, not a defensive one. The two critical provisions here (Section 52 (a) (1) and Section 52 (i)) refer to exceptions made for personal and educational use, not mass, commercial purposes. There are reasons why these provisions in the law are as broad, and they date back to the ’60s,” says Liang.

The 1967 Stockholm Revision of the Berne Convention Protocol regarding developing countries attempted to address the issues of monopolisation of the publishing industry by developed nations, and allowed developing countries to get exceptions in matters of education. The norms then levied addressed the high cost of books and their unavailability on a large scale. The provision, however, was defeated, and that is exactly why, explains Liang, national provisions assume great importance.

Provide books, or allow photocopying
The ideal scene, says Liang, would be that libraries buy enough copies of these books under question and make them easily available to all students. “If every student were to buy every book included in the course pack — even though he needs only a few chapters — s/he would have to shell out more than Rs 80,000 on books alone. And course packs have never been a problem, even in countries such as the US, where it is legal to photocopy 10 per cent of a book toward a course pack. India, on the other hand, has no quantitative limit.”
Liang adds that their main contention is that students are not the primary buyers of the books anyway — the academic institutions are. “Even entry-level academic publications are hardbacks and cost at least Rs 800. Paperbacks often follow four or five years later. “The battle is about the politics of academics.”

Going beyond DU
Jairath is part of this battle, and more, no matter where it takes her. She is an active member of the campaign against the eminent publishers and says she plans to take the matter to other universities in Delhi, too. Thirty three year-old Naveen Chander, a Political Science research student at DU seconds Jairath. “There are 85 colleges in DU that will be affected by this because no photocopier at DU and at Patel Chest, an area lined with photocopiers, is ready to photocopy any study material. DU is not on our side, and neither is it providing students with solutions in the absence of photocopied notes.”

This battle, says Jairath, will hit every student in DU. All examinations will be held in November and soon, no one will have the new course packs soon.” Jairath says, soon, it will be impossible to hold classes because students get a weekly study list. “Conducting classes without students having gone through those notes is futile; it makes no sense — much like this issue.” she says. 

Publishers vs DU students, teachers
The publishers have filed a case against Rameshwari Photocopy Service at Delhi University on the basis that their rights as exclusive owners of copyright under Sec 14 of the Act are being violated through the course packs which the photocopier provides for students.

In India, the Indian Reprographics Rights Organisation (IRRO) is the society designated to collect royalties for writers, and authors and they grant a reprographic license (photocopy license) for which they may charge a university a fixed annual fee, the photocopier a part of their income and an additional charge of 50 p per page.

According to students and professors at DU, and the lawyers supporting them, a license is required only when you don’t have the permission to do something. But in this case if the Indian law (under Section 52) explicitly allows an exception for reproduction of a work for educational or for research purposes, then the question of license does not arise at all.

Also, at the moment the photocopier charges 40 p a page, which means that it is just over cost price, indicative of the fact that it is not meant primarily as an act of profit making. By imposing a levy of 50 p per page it means the cost of photocopying the course packs will be doubled

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