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DU students photocopying academic books is legal

You just cannot produce scholars with a ban on photocopying course material. Literally!” said a miffed Lokesh, an M. Phil student at the Delhi School of Economics, popularly known as D- School, at Delhi University’s North campus. Lokesh is part of a campaign to save the D- School photocopy shop from a petition filed against it by several large publishers.

For students at the varsity, xeroxing course material from the prescribed syllabus is perfectly normal, and the spiral bound black and white pages of different sizes- each bunch weighing anywhere between 2 to 3kg have been an integral part of campus culture for generations now.

Almost every piece of required reading in every syllabus is available with the photocopy shop at a cost. Of course, nobody thought about the legality of it all. Until recently that is!

The copyright infringement petition filed by Oxford and Cambridge university press with Fancis and Tailor against DU and Rameshwari photocopy services in D-School, challenging the practice of photocopying course material, has left varsity students red faced. The petition says that photocopying allows students cheap access to otherwise expensive material.

Photocopying portions of texts for academic purposes is not illegal: Reuters

“The crackdown on photocopy is illegal. The current pricing of academic journals makes it inaccessible to substantial number of students,” said Lawrence Liang of Alternate Law Forum, a Bangalore based law firm that particularly looks at copyright issues.

About the legality of photocopying course packs, Liang said under the Indian Copyright Act, students are entitled to photocopy academic work for study and research purpose.

“Section 52 (1) says that one can reproduce any work by a teacher or a pupil in the course of instruction or as a part of questions or answers to questions. The same section allows a fair dealing with any work other than computer programs when done for private or personal use, including research,” he said.

The petition has brought under the lens, the set norms and definition of ‘mass circulation’. To make a case for violation of copyright act, publishers have challenged a decades old practice in a university, rather than targeting the sale of pirated copies of their books in grey market.

Nor is this the first time publishers have attacked a photocopy service provider to launch a discourse on copyright law. Danish Sheikh, a lawyer at the Alternative Law Forum cites examples from other countries in an article published on Kafila. According to Shiekh's article, in 1991, eight publishers filed a lawsuit against Kinko’s Graphic Corp in USA on similar grounds. Kinko’s lost the case but it lead to the formation of a system of intermediary agencies which take care of copyright licensing of academic work.

The report also cites an instance where instructors at Georgia State University got in trouble when they posted readings online. Publishers argued that doing so was the equivalent of paper photocopying and pressed for regulations. The case resulted in the court putting a quantitative cap on the portion of a book that can be posted online.

“It is a classic strategy followed by publishers in the West so that all academic institutions get the signal and toe the line,” said Ravi Sundaram, senior fellow at Delhi based Centre for the Studies of Developing Societies.

Students said that in the current academic scenario, one cannot do away with photocopies unless there is an equally viable alternative in place.

“The photocopied compilation is essential for thousands of students from economically weaker sections who cannot afford to buy the original books. Sometimes a prescribed reading is only a chapter of a book. Does the publisher expect each student to buy the whole book to read that particular chapter?” said Lokesh.

“Since college libraries do not have sufficient copies of the designated readings, photocopying is the only viable option,” she added. As part of the campaign, students have launched a Facebook page in support of the photocopy shop, and will conduct a seminar on copyright laws in India.

Part of the problem lies with the fact that after releasing exorbitantly priced hard bound editions, a majority of publishers don’t release affordable versions of their books. On average, an Oxford book on any science topic costs Rs 700 to 800. A photocopied variant of the book costs around Rs 200.

“A course pack is not equivalent to compiling a new book or selling a pirated version. Most of these readings are authorised and prescribed readings of the universities meant for private circulation and academic purposes, and not mass produced or produced for mass commercial purposes. Departments and libraries are all an active part of this enterprise and so all of us must be sued for this, not just Rameshwari photocopy service,” said Subhadeepta Roy, PhD student in D- School.

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