Does The Photocopying Of Textbooks For Students Without Easy Access To Them Constitute Copyright Infringement?

In August 2012, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis lodged a copyright infringement case against the shop as well as the University of Delhi in Delhi High Court. They claimed damages of Rs. 60 lakh.

Updated: Sep 24, 2018 18:05:28 IST
2018-09-24T18:05:28+05:30
Does The Photocopying Of Textbooks For Students Without Easy Access To Them Constitute Copyright Infringement?

A library building on one side, a canteen on the other, students huddled in groups, drinking tea, chatting and the college photocopy shop-these are all essentials of an Indian university campus. So, Rameshwari Photocopy Service, in the Delhi School of Economics (under Delhi University) campus, does not warrant special attention. It is, after all, your basic photocopy shop, helping students access limited, expensive books at a nominal price. Until August 2012 that is, when it became the site of a long-drawn copyright infringement suit.

Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis lodged a copyright infringement case against the shop as well as the University of Delhi in Delhi High Court. They claimed damages of Rs. 60 lakh.

Their contention: The practice of photocopying parts of various copy-righted books into unauthorized course packs and selling them for 'commercial gain' was an infringe-ment of the Indian Copyright Act, 1957. The original books, whose excerpts are used in the course pack, could cost anywhere from `5,000-7,000, whereas the photocopied course packs, priced at 50 paise per page, are a fraction of that price. They contended that the university was party to the offence as well, because the course packs were based on syllabi prescribed by the university, which was aiding the photocopy shop by issuing books from its library to prepare these compilations.

In October 2012, Justice Kailash Gambhir passed a temporary injunction halting the sale of these photocopied course books.

"… The objective of the plaintiffs is not to stop the students from photo-copying, but to stop the systematic photocopying of their publications," the counsel for the publishers argued. The reproduction of the work was not being done by students or teachers, nor was it in the course of instruction, they added.

The counsel for Delhi University contested the suit: " … copying certain pages for educational purpose is necessary because purchasing individual books is expensive and several of the books are also out of print or not available in India … Copyright Act is a piece of welfare legislation and the rights of authors and owners are to be balanced with the competing interest of the society."

The Verdict

On 16 September 2016, the Delhi High Court Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw ruled against the publishers and dismissed the copyright suit: "Copyright, specially in literary works, is thus not an inevitable, divine or natural right that confers on authors the absolute ownership of their creations. It is designed rather to stimulate activity and progress in the arts for the intellectual enrichment of the public ..." Citing his student days, he advocated, " … with the advancement of technology the voluminous books can be photocopied and at a very low cost. Thus the students are now not required to spend day after day ... copying pages after pages … When the effect of the action is the same, the difference in the mode of action cannot make a difference so as to make one an offence." The publishers have challenged the ruling.

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