In Ber Sarai Market, located near the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) old campus and at a walking distance from IIT Delhi is Jawahar Book Centre. This decades-old book shop is a landmark of sorts as for years, students from JNU and IIT and civil service aspirants living in that area have been dependent on it to buy books and other study materials.
However, in 2000 the owner of the shop had to face legal action as a case was registered against him for violation of copyright act. He was allegedly selling the photocopied version of a very expensive textbook on java programming. The case was dismissed later due to lack of evidence. But, it nevertheless demotivated the proprietors Rana and Ravi Mazumdar to sell the photocopies of books, which costed much less than the original prints and saved the students a huge sum of money.
Rana welcoming the judgement of the Delhi High Court that dismissed the suit filed by five publishers against the sale of photocopied books and pages by a shop located in Delhi School of Economics (DSE), says, "We have faced the brunt of the copyright law. In the 90s software engineering was a new thing and lots of students were trying their luck in that field. Books for the certifications exams use to be so expensive that students simply could not afford it. To help students we started photocopying it and selling it. But then we had to face legal actions in 2000."
"Even today book of graduate and postgraduate medical courses are so expensive that students simply cannot afford it. The photocopy of the same is quite cheap. Today books of social sciences are so costly. Even NCERT books cost more than Rs 100. If a photocopy of it can help students what’s wrong in it. It is like producing generic medicines," Rana said.
Five publishing companies that include Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom (UK), Cambridge University Press India Pvt. Ltd., Taylor & Francis Group, UK and Taylor & Francis Books India Pvt. Ltd in 2012 filed a suit in the Delhi High Court asking for permanent injunction, restraining the Rameshwari Photocopy Service (carrying on business from DSE, University of Delhi) and the University of Delhi from photocopying, reproduction and distribution of copies of the books published by the above mentioned publishers.
According to facts stated in the judgment, the publishers alleged that Rameshwari Photocopy Service and University of Delhi are engaged in "reproduction and distribution of copies of their publications on a large scale and circulating the same and by sale of unauthorised compilations of substantial extracts from the plaintiffs‘ publications by compiling them into course packs / anthologies for sale."
However, the Delhi High Court on Friday while rejecting the plea taken by the publishers held, "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. Copyright is intended to increase and not to impede the harvest of knowledge. It is intended to motivate the creative activity of authors and inventors in order to benefit the public."
It further said, "Copyright is intended to increase and not to impede the harvest of knowledge. It is intended to motivate the creative activity of authors and inventors in order to benefit the public."
Separately, dwelling on the question whether the action of the University of Delhi of supplying the master copy to the photocopiers shop, granting licence to install photocopiers in the campus and allowing it to supply photocopies to students for a charge would amount to violation of copyright law, the court held, “What University is doing is not different from what is being done in the Bar Association library in the premises of this Court. With the advent of photocopying, the advocates of this Court, instead of carrying books from their residences / offices to this Court for citing judgments there from during the course of arguments and instead of giving in advance the list of such books to the Restorer of this Court and the Restorer of this Court also taking out the court‘s copies of the same books for the Judges to read, and all of which was cumbersome and time consuming, started having the photocopies of the relevant judgments made from the books in the Bar Association Library of this Court. Initially the said photocopying was got done by having the book issued from the library and carrying the same to the photocopier who had, for the convenience of the advocates, been granted a licence to operate from the premises of this Court."
While the judgement is seen as victory by various bookshop owners in the university campuses in Delhi they are all bit apprehensive too as they know the publishers will challenge the judgment in the apex court. Owner of the Kumar Book Store in North Delhi said, "While we are glad that the high court has given this judgment in the interest of the students, the final say will be of the Supreme Court. Hope there too the judgment comes in our favour."
The Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge (ASEAK) who became party in the case in 2013, in a statement said, "Today is a moment where the struggle and conviction of students has asserted itself in a powerful way. We want to remind the publishers that their market ends at the gates of the university. The knowledge produced in public universities belongs to the public. When the world is moving towards open access to knowledge, trying to control it is simply redundant. It is in these universities where minds like Rohith Vemula come and read about Carl Sagan. And it is minds like his that continue to keep these spaces and possibilities in it alive!"