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Western Publishers Sue Delhi University Over Photocopied Textbooks; Students And Authors Fight Back

from the equitable-access dept

Back in October last year, we wrote about Costa Rican students taking to the streets to defend their right to photocopy otherwise unaffordable university textbooks. Of course, that’s not just a problem in Costa Rica: in many parts of the world, high prices act as a significant barrier to education, and it will come as no surprise that photocopying is an accepted practice in many countries.

That’s certainly true in India, where an important battle is playing out around this issue. Here’s a summary from Al Jazeera’s Web site:

Cambridge University Press (CUP), Oxford University Press and Taylor & Francis launched a lawsuit last year against Delhi University (DU) and a reprographics shop near its campus for producing “course packs” — bound collections of photocopied extracts from books and journals that are sold for much cheaper than textbooks. The publishers claim the practice infringes on copyright, and that they and their authors are losing money as a result.

The publishers are demanding over $110,000 in damages for this alleged infringement.

But Delhi University’s Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge (ASEAK) — set up to help fight the lawsuit — points out that according to the Indian Copyright Act 1957 (pdf), in addition to the usual fair dealing/fair use rights, copying for the purposes of teaching is explicitly allowed:

52. Certain acts not to be infringement of copyright. -(1) The following acts shall not constitute an infringement of copyright, namely:

(h) the reproduction of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work-

(i) by a teacher or a pupil in the course of instruction; or

(ii) as part of the questions to be answered in an examination; or

(iii) in answers to such questions;

Recently, 309 academics and authors — 33 of whom were mentioned in the lawsuit — have sent a letter to the publishers involved, asking that they withdraw their legal action. That’s an indication of the widespread concern that a victory in the courts by the publishers would have hugely negative effects on education in India, as ASEAK explains:

That photocopying of educational material takes place at such a large scale across the country and across disciplines is indicative of the gap within our education system that is filled by photocopying. Until alternative mechanisms of access to the same material is evolved, any curbing on photocopying will severely impact the student community, not only in Delhi School of Economics, or Delhi University, but in every educational institute across the country. We affirm and express solidarity with the students of Costa Rica who are fighting for their right to photocopy, directly linked with access to education, as it is in India. We express our solidarity with the open access movement and affirm the cause that Aaron Swartz fought for. We welcome the move in the USA that has led to the decision of free access to publicly funded research after one year of remaining within subscription journals, and will push for similar moves for opening access to publicly funded research within India, including academic works produced by teachers while being employed by State Universities.

The battle here is part of a larger effort by publishers to enforce Western-level pricing in markets that are simply unable to bear them. Interestingly, it’s exactly the same battle that is currently taking place in India over access to medicines, which recently resulted in a significant victory for producers of low-cost drugs. It will be interesting to see whether the current case about access to knowledge goes the same way.

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Comments on “Western Publishers Sue Delhi University Over Photocopied Textbooks; Students And Authors Fight Back”

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32 Comments
Zakida Paul (profile) says:

This is not about enforcing copyright. This is about preventing the world’s poorest people gaining equal access to information so they can better themselves and improve their quality of life. This is about the selfish and socially destructive sense of entitlement that has become a cancer in the Western world where we (by we, I mean society) believe their should be a monopoly on information.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I doubt it’s that thought through. Most likely, it’s about textbook publishers not wanting to offer reasonable prices to Indians because then they will have lose control over the ridiculously inflated pricing they enforce on the Western market as well. They know they have a cash cow, and they don’t want to risk losing it – even if the size of the Indian market could logically bring them more profits even with far lower pricing.

Copyright is the tool they’re wielding to do this, but I suspect it’s got a lot more to do with wanting to hold on to huge profit margins than anything about social and political aims.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Its nothing but pure greed, and bizarre ethical values. It seems that the “ethics” they teach at business schools or that are learned in the field are very different than the ethical values of most, normal, intelligent people.

Seriously, the CEO’s CFO’s and COO’s or whatever of these companies actually think that this is a good idea. Regardless of the bad press, money wasted on legal fees, and the idea of extorting money from poor people, not to mention denying said people an education, they think it is a good idea.

Furthermore, its wrong to dump all the blame on copyright, copyright is just the tool they use to push their agenda. If we had a normal, non-morally bankrupt copyright system (ie: none at all), these people would find some other way to accomplish their heinous deeds.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

One wonders what the impact of India’s caste system has on issues like this. It is likely that the publishers (at least the local employees) are from an upper caste while the folks using the photocopies are lower caste. This may be a stretch, having no personal knowledge of how this caste system works, there are still documentaries being made and shown about the issue.

My point is, that at least in India, there may be more than an economic reason for the various behaviors.

twilightfog says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Infact, the reality is quite opposite. Indian universities / colleges have a large percentages of their college seats reserved for candidates from backward castes. So, while the majority of the applicants compete in the general category, the candidates from backward castes have reserved seats which have significantly less qualifying criteria in terms of age, minimum percentages secured in qualifying exams, and admission / tution fees.

AzureSky (profile) says:

Re: Re: dumb them down

i will counter that with this
http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/07/photos-evangelical-curricula-louisiana-tax-dollars

yes there are textbooks in use, in schools being given public dollars that really do say things like

1. Dinosaurs and humans probably hung out
2. Dragons were totally real
3. “God used the Trail of Tears to bring many Indians to Christ.”
4. Africa needs religion
5. Slave masters were nice guys
6. The KKK was A-OK
7. The Great Depression wasn’t as bad as the liberals made it sound
8. SCOTUS enslaved fetuses
9. The Red Scare isn’t over yet
10. Mark Twain and Emily Dickinson were a couple of hacks
11. Abstract algebra is too dang complicated
12. Gay people “have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.”
13. “Global environmentalists have said and written enough to leave no doubt that their goal is to destroy the prosperous economies of the world’s richest nations.”
14. Globalization is a precursor to rapture

so yeah, we got no room to talk about crazy shit in text books….worst pat of the above is…..its PUBLIC MONEY being used to pay for that “education”……

Loki says:

This is not really a surprise. I read an article about five years ago that said over the next 20 years, roughly 400 million kids in India would come of age and enter the workforce. That’s a market about 20% larger than the entire population of the US.

America largely dominates because it is one of the largest consumers markets in the world combined with a historically high standard of living. As a much larger market like India slowly evolves both technologically and in their standard of living, that advantage slowly gets whittled away unless global corporate entities (many, but not all, of whom are US based) can lock their ideologies into codified laws to protect their interests.

Anonymous Coward says:

this and all lawsuits concerning copyright are taken out for two reasons

a)control
b)greed

there cannot be any other reasons, especially when the countries concerned could never pay the fees, let alone the schools or the students. the impact on education would be massive. the reasons a lot of western companies set up shop in these countries is because of the low, almost negligible costs involved. these companies want a double whammy! low production costs but western prices!

relghuar says:

Let's borrow some money!!

I say the indian students themselves are at fault for this situation. If they don’t have enough money, they should just shut up and borrow some from all the nice financial institutions, just like their american counterparts. After all, what better price for education than getting indebted for life? At least our revered multinational corporations would then have some means to put them in line later and stop all those hyenous criminal practices in India, like courts ignoring patents and forcing pharma to licence generic drugs for a fraction of rightful price. It’s about time to show those Asians who’s the master here!

Sorry, couldn’t resist a bit of trolling 😉

Robin says:

America isn't the most benevolent country in the world

This is further proof that American values (at least corporate values) are not the most benevolent in the world. No we are about profit at all costs and even our supposed Liberal Universities march to the beat of that drum. The cost of textbooks for our students in our universities is outrageous. This travesty reminds me of pharmaceutical companies that take herculean efforts to stifle generic medications…We have a plethora of Profiteers running rampant in the land of the free turning over every stone to find more money. Such short sighted efforts are erasing our Middle class and apparently are reaching out to effect other disenfranchised parts of the world. This is the American way of capitalism.

The Real Michael says:

Re: America isn't the most benevolent country in the world

Copyright law is to blame. It has become so blown out of proportion that it causes far more bad than good. It’s too bad, we had a golden opportunity last year to reform this busted system but, as usual, politicians put corporate interests above “…the progress of the sciences and useful arts.”

out_of_the_blue says:

Well, this story has an emotional besides Populist appeal...

BUT should these relatively privileged kids succeed, they’d become the ones trying to wring every last rupee out of exploiting the poor! “Capitalism”, besides more basic human nature, has this intrinsic contradiction: everyone wants exchanges to work only one way, in their favor. So I find it difficult to be TOO sympathetic or TOO hard on the publishers.

But skip that. What we need is a New Deal to level the playing field again. — Actually, THIS time we need to take the playing field back! — This item doesn’t even begin to tackle the real inequalities that exist in India or the world. It’s just Techdirt’s characteristic way of pitting poor publishers against even poorer students, while ignoring truly obscene levels of unearned wealth. There are people who are born into literally feudal entitlements that EVERY HOUR brings them more money without effort than you’ll earn in a month or a year. Let’s tackle inequality at the level where it’s clearly evil, and then much of the rest will sort itself out.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Well, this story has an emotional besides Populist appeal...

BUT should these relatively privileged kids succeed, they’d become the ones trying to wring every last rupee out of exploiting the poor! “Capitalism”, besides more basic human nature, has this intrinsic contradiction: everyone wants exchanges to work only one way, in their favor. So I find it difficult to be TOO sympathetic or TOO hard on the publishers.

What the hell are you trying to say here? Are you really saying that capitalism is bad so we should stop people from bettering themselves with an education?? What the heck is your endgame? You want everyone dumbed down to your level or something? You make very little sense.

But skip that. What we need is a New Deal to level the playing field again. — Actually, THIS time we need to take the playing field back! — This item doesn’t even begin to tackle the real inequalities that exist in India or the world. It’s just Techdirt’s characteristic way of pitting poor publishers against even poorer students, while ignoring truly obscene levels of unearned wealth. There are people who are born into literally feudal entitlements that EVERY HOUR brings them more money without effort than you’ll earn in a month or a year. Let’s tackle inequality at the level where it’s clearly evil, and then much of the rest will sort itself out.

Once again, HOW would you achieve this? Knock anyone who is more successful than you down to your level? Sounds like you want to resolve the inequities of tree height in the forest with hatchet, axe and fire to me. How will this promote advancement of anything?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Well, this story has an emotional besides Populist appeal...

I think he’s trying to say “Smarter kids in India will just take advantage of the others! That won’t do; let Western publishers do it instead!”

Yeah, that doesn’t make a single granule of sense to me either, but that’s out_of_the_asscrack logic for you.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

How about India develops their own textbooks

Agreed. There are good open source alternatives popping up everywhere. Let the Western publishers drown in their own greed, deny them the money =)

If there is something despicable it is exactly that, restricting access to knowledge with prohibitive prices just because you can and then telling the ones unable to pay to just go without. Fine, we’ll do that.

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