Photocopying Textbooks Is Fair Use In India: Western Publishers Withdraw Copyright Suit Against Delhi University

from the let's-celebrate-a-rare-win-for-the-public dept

Back in September last year, Mike wrote about the remarkable court ruling in India that copyright is not inevitable, divine or a natural right. As we have been reporting since 2013, the case in question was brought by three big Western publishers against Delhi University and a photocopy shop over “course packs” — bound collections of photocopied extracts from books and journals that are sold more cheaply than the sources. Although the High Court of Delhi ruled that photocopying textbooks in this way is fair use, that was not necessarily the end of the story: the publishers might have appealed to India’s Supreme Court. But as the Spicy IP site reports, they didn’t:

In a stunning development, OUP, CUP and Taylor & Francis just withdrew their copyright law suit filed against Delhi University (and its photocopier, Rameshwari) 5 years ago! They indicated this to the Delhi high court in a short and succinct filing made this morning.

This withdrawal brings to an end one of the most hotly contested IP battles ever, pitting as it did multinational publishers against academics and students.

The Spicy IP post has a useful short timeline of the case, as well as a link to the site’s extremely detailed coverage of all the twists and turns of the saga, which is now finally — and definitively — over. Importantly, the case was:

one that ultimately tested the bounds of copyright law in India. And clarified that while educational photocopying is permissible, there are limits to this as well. And that any copying must comport closely with the intended purpose (“in the course of instruction”). In that sense, publishers have made some gains in at least ensuring that a complete free for all regime is not what is intended by the law. But a circumspect one, where the copying has to fall within the bounds of the educational exception.

Overall, this is a huge victory for educational access and public interest in India. And very welcome in a world that was witnessing a rather one sided ratcheting up of IP norms, at the cost of all else!

That’s an important point. So often it seems that copyright only ever gets longer and stronger, with the public always on the losing side. The latest news from India shows that very occasionally, it’s the public that wins.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Companies: cambridge university press, cup, delhi university, oup, oxford university press, rameshwari, taylor & francis

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Comments on “Photocopying Textbooks Is Fair Use In India: Western Publishers Withdraw Copyright Suit Against Delhi University”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Not that I don’t mind copyright being cut down to size, but what will the long term implications of this ruling be?

If a book, or all relevant parts of it, can be freely copied and sold by third parties, what incentives are there for publishers to make and publish textbooks?

Textbooks might be overpriced and all that, but in the long run why would anybody bother to invest in making and publishing a book if it’ll just be photocopied by somebody else?

Of course, as long as this is limited to India only, they can “pirate” all the foreign books they want, but there won’t be any domestic textbooks after a while. All local authors will demand payment in full up front, as that’ll be all the money they ever see. This will cut down on the number of local textbooks as there will only be so many institutions that can afford to front the money to write a book.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

First, you are either a troll or a shill. More likely the later, so I need to ask how much it pays to be a shill for big media.

You might have a point if the only reason that professors wrote textbooks was to make money and if they actually ever saw any of that money. Right now the only people making money off of text books are the publishers. So the only real down side to this ruling is that textbooks in India will likely be spiral bound instead of having the nice hardback bindings publishers put on in an effort to justify the prices.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There are plenty of open initiatives to build free open source books out there. Youtube is full of people teaching stuff for free. There are plenty of news of scientists, researchers sharing academic articles and pushing to make them free from the likes of Elsvier (for instance). And libraries of course.

There are incentives other than money to write books. And in fact, from my academic experience, one is much more willing to share their work than to keep it locked.

Your apocalyptic scenario hasn’t happened so far even though copying and libraries are rampant. Why would it happen now?

Eldakka (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

There are incentives other than money to write books.

Or writing a textbook could be seen as a loss-leader.

Even if you don’t make much money directly from the textbook, I’m pretty sure a lecturer being able to say "I literally wrote the textbook on " would make them a highly sought-after teacher. They could pick and choose the teaching positions, and it would be a leg-up on getting tenure too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

A good lecturer has a better option, it is called YouTube. That also save them from repeating the lecture, unless they need to change the information in it. Their avenues for income are possibly selling ebooks, but more usefully selling selling personal attention as tutorials etc. Lab time is also a sellable commodity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I have news for you, publisher, labels and studios now control a small fraction of the works that are published. .Also, it is easy to give someone a link to the work that you have self published, while if you give a publisher control of your work, you may not even be able to buy a copy of your own to give someone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Not that I don’t mind copyright being cut down to size, but what will the long term implications of this ruling be?

Very little, as most students cannot afford to buy all the source books that they are gaining copies of pages from. The textbook market is a case of where the publishers, (and not the authors), are squeezing their target market too hard for it to be sustainable. The replacement for the publishers, and with greater flexibility, already exists, and it takes he form of a GIT repository.

timmaguire42 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I was thinking the same thing–this isn’t a case of a professor photocopying some excerpts to hand out to the class to save students from having to buy a book that will be 99.5% unused. Especially given the outrageous pricing of textbooks. No, this is a business that copies textbooks and then sells the copies (according to the excerpt).

Ideally, there would be a compulsory license like in music so that professors could build their own textbooks affordably. This decision appears to have some significant risk built into it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I know. It’s so sad that music stopped being made because it became optional to pay for it. And then the pirates came for the movies, and they stopped making them. Then they came for the books (text and otherwise). And now my children cry themselves to sleep because there are no books to read to them, and there are no songs to sing to them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

All the industries you brought up are subsidized by people who do pay for the product. Your childish to think that those industries and the content creators are not affected by this theft.

I also find it funny that you support a big business that sells stolen content. They are doing the same as publishers but they don’t even create the content.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The industries you describe have been “affected by this theft” for years and each year they boast about their profits. Clearly they’re not as affected as you would like to think.

And universities are not in the business of selling content. Neither are publishers responsible for creating the contents they print; someone else wrote it.

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