Not in our name: Academics oppose publishers, support photocopying

Authors and teachers have joined the battled against publishers who have challenged Delhi University and a licensed photocopy store on DU campus, claiming copyright infringement for selling photocopies of compilations of reference books (known as course packs) to students.

The case filed by Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis, in August, has attracted widespread attention for its far-reaching implications for students and their access to content across India.

Earlier this month, teachers and academics under the banner Society for Promoting Educational Access and Knowledge or SPEAK were permitted by the High Court to become party to case as defendents making it “abundantly clear that they are dissociating themselves from the law-suit and that publishers were not really speaking in their name.”

Prior to the impleading themselves in the case, over 300 teachers and authors signed a letter to publishing houses, requesting them withdraw their petition. (Read full letter here)

 Not in our name: Academics oppose publishers, support photocopying


The list of those who signed the letter included 33 professors and authors who were specifically mentioned in the petition by publishers as being among those whose books formed part of some of the ‘course packs’ that were being sold at DU.

“As academics and authors we believe that the wider circulation of our work will only result in a richer academic community and it is unfortunate that you would choose to alienate teachers and students who are indeed your main readers and we urge you to consider withdrawing this petition,” the letter stated.

Professor of Intellectual Property Law at Kolkata’s National University of Juridical Sciences Shamnad Basheer, who is among those leading the campaign by teachers, rejects the claim that course packs eat into revenue of publishers.

“They do not impact the copyright owner because it is not students who buy these textbooks anyway. These textbooks are super expensive,” he says.

Course packs, Basheer explains, do not reproduce entire textbooks but only take small portions of each textbook.

“I want to expose my students to a wide variety of topics so that we can engage with a wide variety of topics. For that I need to reproduce small portions from different books. A course-pack in no way impacts the market for books and should be seen as a valid educational exercise. And the Copyright Act clearly exempts this educational exercise from infringement. It says that anything done in the ‘course of instruction’ is exempt from copyright infringement,” says Basheer.

But publishers have challenged that claim in the High Court.

Questioning dooms-day predictions by publishers that the practice of photocopying course packs would sound the death knell for educational publishing, Basheer says, “This is the first law suit in the country. Till now, everybody has been photocopying in the country left, right and centre. If at all they had to die, they would have died a long time ago. The fact that they are growing year after year means that this is not their market. Students do not buy these textbooks.”

Teachers also make the point that a “large part of academic scholarship that is picked up and published by publishers are subsidised by Universities and financed through public funding. The law suit essentially targets educational establishments that contribute to the very creation of these copyrighted materials.”

“Universities subsidise the creation of these works. At now you are charging the same universities that produce the works. What kind of unethical practice this is?” Basheer said.

Updated Date: Apr 26, 2013 18:12:04 IST