New Delhi, March 13: More than 300 academics from universities across the globe, including Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, have lashed out against foreign publishers who are trying to stop students in India from photocopying their books.
Publishers like Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis Group have moved Delhi High Court alleging illegal reproduction of study materials from their books. They have alleged that Rameshwari Photocopier, a licensed photocopy shop at Delhi School of Economics (DSE), was bringing out course packs by reproducing study materials taken from their books without authorisation.
The high court has given a stay order on the DSE campus photocopier till the next hearing on April 25.
A total of 309 professors from institutions like Stanford University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Johns Hopkins University, Cambridge University, University of California, University of Warwick, University of Singapore, Delhi University, University of Chicago, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, IIT Bombay and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have issued an open letter to these publishers supporting students’ right to access authors’ work through photocopying.
“As authors and educators, we would like to place on record our distress at this act of the publishers, as we recognise the fact that in a country like India marked by sharp economic inequalities, it is often not possible for every student to obtain a personal copy of a book,” the letter said.
An ideal option is that multiple copies of the book should be available in the library so that students are able to access these books without any difficulty. But given the constraints that libraries in India work with, they may only have a single copy of a book and in many instances, none at all.
Of the 309 signatories, 33 are authors whose works are included in the “course packs”. Among the 33 are some leading academics like professors Thomas Blom Hansen, Partha Chatterjee, Ayesha Jalal, Christophe Jaffrelot, Veena Das, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Marc Galanter. Sen has expressed his disappointment with the law suit in a separate letter.
The publishers have argued that photocopy shops were making business by illegally reproducing from their books. The “course packs”, which are collection of materials from different books, cannot be treated as personal use, they have said.
The academicians have not agreed with the publishers’ claim that they suffer financial loss because of photocopying. “Given the pricing strategy followed by publishers, we do not believe that students are the primary market for these books and hence it would be disingenuous to presume that every photocopied article or book would be a lost sale,” the letter said.
They argued that most academics are able to write books because they are supported by public infrastructure and funds, hinting that they were not dependent on royalties alone.
They also said their work was often a product of research or project funded by the government or institutions. So, the profits of the academic publishing houses are under-written by tax-payers’ money, they argued.
They also said that bringing out course packs is allowed under the Copyright Act. Section 52(1)(a) of the Act provides for a fair dealing with any work for the purposes of private or personal use, including research.
Students of Delhi University, who have formed the Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge, have cited the two letters in their campaign against the publishers. The ASEAK has asked the court to make it a party to the case filed by the publishers.