Profit and loss: Is photocopying chapters of educational books legal?


Bookshop claims to be helping students by giiving them access to expensive textbooks
Bookshop claims to be helping students by giiving them access to expensive textbooks

Students will celebrate if a court in India rules that a shop can continue to sell photocopied chapters of books, according to an expert.

Publishing giants including Oxford University Press will have an appeal hearing on Tuesday (November 29) in Delhi over the four-year battle involving a bookshop.

A court ruled in September that Rameshwari Photocopier, based at Delhi University’s School of Economics, can make copies of pages from textbooks and sell them to students as “course packs”.

The publishers argue the store was violating their copyright and exploiting their work, which is affecting their profits. But teachers, authors and undergraduates have thrown their support behind the bookshop.

Shamnad Basheer, a professor of intellectual property law at Nirma University in Ahmedabad, told Eastern Eye if the appeal is dismissed, it will help students who are paying too much for books.

“A number of authors were against this lawsuit filed because they knew it was important for students to access their works.

“It was not realistic to expect students to buy these books. Rather through course packs, students would at least get exposed to these authors.

“The lawsuit therefore is primarily brought to further the private profits of publishers. And more importantly to bolster the fortunes of the newly set up Indian Reprographic Rights Organisation (IRRO).”

He added: “Many academic authors are being paid for by universities and in publicly funded universities; they are effectively paid for by tax payers. This, coupled with the government doling out significant moneys to universities for library purchases, essentially means we have a highly subsidised academic publishing ecosystem.

“To now charge excessively high prices for these books is mercenary mercantilism by publishers. I’m glad this lawsuit will open up a can of worms, and also force us to interrogate as to how much authors are being paid as royalties and who really benefits from all of this.”

The publishers, including Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis Books approached the Delhi high court in 2012 to get a permanent injunction to bar Rameshwari Photocopier from making copies of its books.

They asked the judge to ensure the university obtains a licence and gets its permission. But Delhi University said no license was granted to the shop and it was allowed to run, “keeping the interest of the students in mind”.

The publishers said it has brought out low-cost editions, course-packs, adaptations and reprint titles to help undergraduates.

In a statement to Eastern Eye, the Association of Publishers in India, the Federation of Indian Publishers and the IRRO said: “We have decided to support the publishers’ appeal with the Delhi high court bench, filed against the dismissal of their suit.

“We fully support the principle of equitable access to knowledge. But such access would not exist without the efforts of content creators, authors, illustrators, designers, publishers and everyone involved in the creation and dissemination of original content. Their rights must be respected.

“We have full faith the court will balance the interests of those creating learning materials with those requiring access to them in a fair and sustainable manner.”

The book shop could be forced to pay compensation to the companies if they lose next week’s appeal hearing.