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India to seek photocopy right for students

New Delhi, Sept. 20: India will seek changes to international copyright regulations so that students and researchers can procure photocopies of expensive books without having to pay royalties, a senior government source said.

Come December, he said, the Union human resource development ministry will ask the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo) to relax its norms that protect authors’ and publishers’ commercial rights over their books.

The ministry will suggest at the next general assembly of Wipo, a UN body with 185 nations as members, that educational and research institutions be exempted from the copyright regime.

“Students and researchers use material (from books) for academic purposes. In developing countries like ours, they should not face any restrictions in doing so,” the source said.

The ministry plan comes at a time the Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis have moved Delhi High Court alleging illegal photocopying of their books by a private vendor operating from the Delhi University campus.

These three international publishers have alleged that the vendor has been offering these photocopies as course packs for students. The court has stayed photocopying of these books.

Alka Chawla, an intellectual property rights expert and law teacher with Delhi University, said Wipo had been framing guidelines to protect authors’ commercial rights over their intellectual property.

Also, the World Trade Organisation has introduced the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips), which prescribes provisions to check copyright violations.

Since India is a Trips signatory and Wipo member, it amended the Copyright Act 1957 last year to bring it in conformity with international practices.

The amended law says the copyright owner has the exclusive right to authorise a person to reproduce the work and publish it.

It adds that licences may be issued by a registered copyright society to educational institutions so that students can get photocopies of reasonable and relevant portions of any book for study.

The Indian Reprographic Rights Organisation has been created to issue such licences to institutions against a fee, which is distributed among the authors or publishers who are members of the organisation.

Several institutions have recently taken such licences, which allow them to photocopy up to 10 per cent of any book over which the copyright society’s members have rights.

They can make multiple copies and distribute them among their students if they want, or put them up in their libraries. Some private institutions have been passing the fee on to their students.

“If India’s demand is accepted, Wipo will ask its member countries to change their laws to allow educational and research institutions to make photocopies of books without paying royalties to copyright societies,” Chawla said.

Over 300 Indian-origin academics from universities across the globe, including Amartya Sen, recently criticised the three foreign publishers who have moved Delhi High Court.

These academics have argued that in a country marked by sharp economic inequalities, it is not possible for every student to obtain their personal copy of a book.

Delhi University students have formed an Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge, which has become a party to the case filed by the publishers.

Association president Apoorva Gautam, an MA sociology student at the Delhi School of Economics, welcomed the government’s plan.

“If Wipo changes its regulations and India amends its own law further, the students will be the biggest beneficiaries,” Gautam said.