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.