31 Mar

Publishers vs Photocopying: Will Indian institutes pay licensing fee?

Top global publishing houses launched a massive offensive against a lone photocopy store in Delhi University and against the Delhi University, telling the High Court on Thursday that the practice of ‘institutionally-supported mass photocopying’ is the ‘death knell’ for educational publishing.

Read details here.

Last year, three international publishing houses – Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis – dragged Rameshwari Photocopy Service, a licensed store on the campus of Delhi School of Economics and the Delhi University to court alleging copyright infringement for sale of photocopied compilations of parts of reference books, known as ‘course packs’, to students.

Since the filing of the petition by the publishers in August, students and teachers have also made themselves party to the case to oppose the petition.

The publishers contested the stand by students that the practice of photocopying prescribed text books was legal under the Copyright Act (Read report here).

Sai Krishan, the lawyer representing the publishers, told the court, “Just because you are a student or a teacher you do not have a blank cheque to copy and reproduce content in a manner that would militate the very object of educational publishing. Today they are saying they can do this and that it is in the interest of students. This reasoning is extremely myopic, even if correct. The future of educational publishing is at stake.

“If the court holds that this sort of copying is permissible it will sound the death knell for education publishing itself. Who would want to invest? Some authors say that they write books for scholarly acknowledgement alone and that their content should be freely distributed. But without a publisher this content would not reach students. I daresay, there will be no content produced at all that is worthy of publication.”

The objective of the case, the publishers told the court, was “to stop institutionally-supported mass photocopying of my content that renders my textbooks entirely redundant.”

They went on clarify, however, that they did not intend to stop students from photocopying per se.

“We are extremely concerned about access to content. How do we achieve this balance where on one hand the publisher who invests and the author who writes get some revenue but at the same time it is so cheap that universities and college provide an environment where intellectual property is respected,” he said.

Proposing that universities enter into a licensing agreement with publishers to continue the practice of photocopying of their books, Krishna said, “The plaintiffs (publishers) are not demanding that they (students) buy my books, we are only saying have a licensing model, the reprographic rights license. This is how universities around the world operate.”

Making the point that policing the infringement of copyrights by photocopying stores was simply not practical, Krishna told the court, “Blanket licensing norm is being considered the world over where you don’t go into how many pages and so on. Every institution pays one blanket license fee.”

All three publishers are members of Indian Reprographic Rights Organisation (IRRO), which under the Copyright Act is the registered society for the issue of licenses for literary works. Providing details of the tariff scheme of such licenses, Krishna said, “For colleges it is Rs 12,000 per college for a blanket license. And for professional colleges it is Rs 24,000. The publishers gain because of volumes.”

However, the defendants told the court that the case at hand was concerned with whether the sale of photocopies of textbooks by students was an infringement of copyright and not do with reprographic rights licenses.

The court today rejected a plea by students to lift an earlier order restraining Rameshwari photocopying store from selling compilations of the course material.

When the lawyer representing the students told the court that the stay had put students in great difficulty as the exams where beginning from next month, the judge replied, “There are so many other photocopying stores.”

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