Till 18 August, Apoorva Gautam was a regular at the tiny photocopy shop next to Ratan Tata Library on her college campus. The routine involved flagging pages of books issued from the library, waiting in line for her turn, and negotiating how long the photocopywaala would take to photocopy her study material. Once done, she would head back to her hostel with bundles of paper that often weighed over a kilogram.
Apoorva, 23, is a postgraduate student doing her Master’s in sociology, not law. Yet, three weeks after the photocopy shop was raided by officials appointed by the Delhi High Court, which was looking into a copyright violation suit, she can rattle off sections and provisions of the Indian copyright law without batting an eyelid. Seated under a tree, incensed that the law should interfere with her education, she takes down the minutes of a students’ meeting being held to launch a protest against the lawsuit.
The petition was filed by three publishers—Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Francis & Taylor—against Delhi University and Rameshwari Photocopy Services, alleged to have violated India’s copyright law by selling photocopied compilations of study material as ‘course packs’. The petitioners argue that this amounts to a parallel publishing enterprise of sorts that is not just illegal, but also harms their market sales. While the court has so far only ordered a seizure of all such course packs in stock on the shop’s premises, the lawsuit claims damages of Rs 60 lakh as well.
“It was the simplest option available to us,” says Apoorva, “You cannot get a copy of every book from the library, simply because there aren’t that many copies there. I cannot buy every book or journal either. The most convenient thing to do was either issue the text and get the relevant parts xeroxed, or buy spiral-bound copies of books that [Rameshwari had available]. That way, you can study at your own will and comfort.”
The gathering around the tree starts discussing ways to take the students’ protest public. As Apoorva helps chalk out plans for posters and pamphlets, modelled on her earlier campaign against a campus ban on smoking, she adds, “Photocopying here is done for educational reasons. They cannot clamp down on a system in place just like that.”
Her words are echoed across Delhi University’s north campus. Libraries do not have enough copies of textbooks, say students, and buying originals is too expensive. “If I had to procure every text on my syllabus, I would have to shell out Rs 85,000 for my course material,” says Devika Narayan, an MPhil student of sociology. While photocopies cost 40 paise a page, a pre-bound course pack—with photocopies from multiple books—can be had for only Rs 500–800, adds Tanushree Das, a psychology honours student. “This is any day cheaper than buying textbooks that would be at least Rs 200 each,” says she.
It’s not just Rameshwari, even off-campus copier shops—near North Delhi’s Patel Chest hospital, for example—have been selling course packs drawn from prescribed texts. “You just have to land up there and ask for a pack relevant to your course. It began with photocopy shops keeping extra copies of compilations done on request. Now it is a full-fledged business,” says Sakshi Nanda, a former student with a Master’s degree in English from Delhi University. “There were many books that were not available in India and the library would have only one copy,” she adds, “So we had our photocopywaalas helping us out.”
Not all students of Delhi University are pro-photocopying. Some have even held demonstrations against the practice. Meanwhile, the raid has stirred a lively debate within academic, law and publishing circles. Those who support the petitioners say the suit is justified since the photocopy shop was clearly selling course packs for a commercial purpose, with the university as an accomplice in this violation of the Indian Copyright Act, 1957, since it let the photocopier pursue an illegal business on its campus. In their petition, the three publishers allege that Delhi University had sublet some space to Rameshwari, which, in lieu of rent, would do 3,000 photocopies free for the library each month. They also allege that the library had issued lending cards to the shop’s operators, who thus had direct access to books that they could photocopy whenever students placed orders.
Dharam Pal, who runs the photocopy shop, claims he had no idea there existed any rules for photocopying. “Since I was functioning on campus, and teachers themselves would often ask me to photocopy books or sections of a text in the library,” he says, “it seemed fine to me.”
To justify their claim of damages, the publishers’ petition contends that the portions being photocopied are essential to the texts and their market value; once these are xeroxed, reproduced and sold, the originals are redundant, which hurts their business interests.
Opponents of the publishers’ petition argue that the interests of students ought to assume precedence in such cases. This is not just wishful thinking. According to Lawrence Liang, co-founder of the Bangalore-based Alternate Law Forum that deals with copyright issues, Indian law does not support the imposition of such restrictions on students. While the Copyright Act restricts the reproduction of reading matter through photocopies, he says, it also has a set of statutory exemptions, of which two specific provisions protect the interests of education. These are the provisions of ‘fair use’ and ‘fair dealing’, listed as Section 52 (1) (i) of the Act, which allows the ‘reproduction of any work by a teacher or pupil in the course of instruction’ (in effect, legalising photocopies related to class lessons); and Section 52 (1) (a), which allows the ‘fair dealing’ out of works (other than computer programs) for purposes of personal or private research. Liang adds that the law does not restrict the number of copies that can be made under those provisions. Nor does it specify anything that cannot be copied.
“The publishers are trying to force a strict order of copyright laws as followed in the US, where students have to shell out money to buy course packs from the university,” says Liang, “We have a law in place that protects our students from this order.” This is just as well, he adds, given how hard-pressed most Indians are for funds. “We have students who just cannot shell out such money,” he says, “Besides, if [the publishers] want to protect their interests, they should fight for changing the law, not just slap a suit against a university.”
As the US precedent shows, though, this lawsuit may just be a prelude to a bigger clampdown. In America, according to Danish Sheikh, an associate of Liang who is helping the protestors file a counter petition in court, it began with publishers going after photocopiers and online posts. In 1991, eight publishers sued Kinko’s Graphic Corp, an event that led to the framing of rules for copy licences. Emboldened, publishers then turned the heat on course instructors at Georgia State University for putting course material online, claiming that this was like the illegal distribution of photocopies. This led to a cap on the quantity of reading material that could be reproduced without violating the law. “This is typically how publishers in the West have arm-twisted universities to adhere to copyright laws,” says Ravi Sundaram, senior research fellow at Delhi’s Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
Copy licences are available in India too, according to the three petitioners behind the raid on Rameshwari. These licences are issued by the Indian Reprographics Rights Organisation (IRRO), a Delhi-based society of authors and publishers (of which the three are members). On paying a nominal fee, a licence-holder may reproduce up to 10 per cent or a single chapter of a book.
“Our society has only recently drafted the laws and rate card and got them notified,” says Shakti Malik, IRRO’s treasurer, “so we had [only] recently met officials from Delhi University and other universities—who clearly had no idea of photocopying rules.” The society’s effort is necessary, he says, because copyright laws are rarely implemented in India.
“The suit is for Rs 60 lakh,” says Malik, “All others will fall in line.”
The protestors at Delhi University are not so sure about that. To mobilise support for their cause, they have taken their campaign against the copy clampdown to the Delhi Book Fair. “Not many of us understand the gravity of the situation beyond the inconvenience of queuing up for books in the library or having to shell out more money for reading material,” says Apoorva, who has been juggling classes with protest meetings. She and others hope to challenge the publishers in court. But, as Devika says, they first need to garner support every which way possible, even online.
Delhi University, though, seems keen to maintain a studied silence on the issue. Vice Chancellor Dinesh Singh did not respond to an Open questionnaire. So far, the university has no stance on the issue. But then, how education is best imparted in this country is perhaps a question too important to be left to educators.