September 21st, 2016
In a rare judgment in the Delhi University Photocopy Case, the Delhi High Court restored the right to sell photocopies of study materials and textbooks. The Delhi High Court gave the verdict in favour of a shop in the Delhi University campus which sold photocopies of popular textbooks, against which a group of renowned international publishers brought a petition to shut down the shop. They were of the opinion that it was illegal to sell photocopies of books and the students should buy the books instead.
The case dates back to 2012 when three popular publications- Oxford, Taylor & Francis and Cambridge initiated a petition of copyright infringement against Rameshwari Photocopy Services. It is a small photocopy shop which owns a license from Delhi University to produce photocopies of important textbooks for the students. The publication houses stated that Rameshwari was illegally producing the photocopies; instead, the students should buy the books on moral grounds. The case which initially involved the photocopier, the publication houses, and the court slowly saw the involvement of the students and teachers of the university and other publication houses. It gave rise to a number of questions on the ground of equal access to knowledge and education. A student group named Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge filed an intervening petition.
The publishers argued that photocopying of existing textbooks on the ground of preparing course materials for students is objectionable and tantamount to copyright infringement.
The defendant, on the other hand, stated that photocopying and reproduction of study materials for educational purposes fall under the exception to copyright of the Copyright Act [Section 52 (1)].
Upon listening to the arguments made by both sides, Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw concluded that copyright falls within the jurisdiction of statutory right. He said, “The plea is dismissed”. The verdict is no doubt a landmark in the history of copyright law in India. As reported by The Hindu, the judge held that “copyright in a literary work is not an inevitable, divine or natural right.” The verdict further added that the copyright law intends to accelerate the increase of knowledge, not obstruct it. Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw said that we have to keep in mind the socio-economic restraint of various sectors, mainly the limitation of resources to further studies and give permission to do copyright.
The 94-page ruling stated that photocopying of existing texts and books and creating course materials is mandatory in the course of students’ education and is covered under the provisions of the Copyright Act, 1957. It also acknowledged the importance of technology in education and stated that the students could gain the bulk amount of study materials at a comparatively low cost which at the same time will relieve them from the pressure of copying each page.
While the judgement has ruled out in favour of the photocopiers and has given a terrible blow to the publishers, now it needs to be seen how they respond to the judgement. It goes without saying that the verdict has estranged the relationship between the publishers and the students and teachers community. Experts are saying that it is not correct to counter challenge the verdict on moral and ethical grounds. It should be remembered that everyone should get equal access to education and if that can be done through photocopying, then it shall be allowed on the rational ground.
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