The Delhi High CourtDelhi High Court

Cambridge University Press (CUP) and Oxford University Press (OUP) will appeal the verdict of Delhi High Court in the so-called ‘DU Photocopy Case’, it has been announced.

The case, filed against Rameshwari Photocopy Services, a small photocopy shop, operating under a licence from the University of Delhi (UoD) to reproduce course materials for university students, ended in victory for the defendants last month.  

Mr Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, presiding, ruled that the packs, featuring between six and 65 pages of CUP and OUP publications fall within the “educational exception” clause of the Copyright Act 1957. The ruling overturns an injunction from October 2012 which banned Rameshwari from photocopying chapters of copyrighted books to students.

The formal appeal accuses the UoD of “photocopying substantial portions (extending to ‘cover to cover’ copying) of copyrighted publications”, and claims that “unchecked unauthorised unfair copying for commercial gain has the potential of completely destroying the legitimate market for educational copyrighted publications”.

The wording of the appeal has been criticised by some observers, who note that so-called ‘cover to cover’ copying was not the issue put before the judge in the original case, which centred only on the reproduction of excerpts.

The 2012 ruling drew mass condemnation from the academic community in India, and led to the formation of the Society for the Promotion of Educational Access and Knowledge (SPEAK), which acted as co-defendant in the case.

Speaking to Varsity, SPEAK spokesperson Professor Shamnad Basheer said: “The court agreed with us on this count and ruled that access to education is an important constitutional right that must not be narrowly interpreted.”

“Photocopying of course packs was always the norm in India prior to the 2012 injunction against Dehli University. CUP never went out of business, rather it went from strength to strength in India.”

“One can't help but think that there is a bit of a colonial undertone to this narrative of how a university in a developed country with an inside understanding of academic publishing sues another university in a country with severe resource constraints particularly on the educational front.”

A group of Oxford postgraduate students have called on students and academics to sign a petition calling for the University to withdraw from the appeal and “promote access to education in a fair and legitimate manner for students in India and more generally, across the world”.

In 2013, over 300 writers and academics, including 33 whose works are at the centre of the case, signed an open letter, calling on CUP and OUP to withdraw the suit, including Cambridge alumni Ayesha Jalal and Jonathan Parry.

Since then, CUP and OUP have repeatedly called on the UoD to obtain a licence from the Indian Reprographic Right Organisation (IRRO), which would see the UoD pay for the right to photocopy copyrighted publications for the preparation of course packs.

The IRRO has, however, come under fire for being overly restrictive on what can be copied under the terms of its licence – limiting licence-holders to 15 per cent of a text, or one chapter, whichever is greater.

When asked about the IRRO proposal, Professor Basheer said: “It’s a very dangerous route to tread and the Oxford petition that is now being signed makes this very clear.”

During the trial, the UoD gave evidence on the expensiveness of books – noting that some OUP books cost as much as an entire year’s tuition at the UoD.

Foreign publishers, the University alleges, regularly offer only old editions of texts in India, forcing institutions to import more recent editions at considerable cost.

Speaking to Varsity, Oxford law scholar and signatory to the most recent petition Sanya Samtani said: “It is particularly disappointing that a University publishing house should choose to pursue this litigation so aggressively”.

“We feel this energy would be much better oriented towards devising ways for securing equitable access to knowledge, and instituting open access regimes with greater reach. Both of these remain goals that the University is theoretically committed to achieving.”

Varsity contacted CUP for comment, but received no reply.


UoD Photocopy Case

April 2012 CUP and OUP alerted to the practice of photocopying copyrighted publications at the UoD
August 2012 CUP and OUP file a joint suit against the UoD and Rameshwari Photocopy Services
October 2012 Injuction issued banning Rameshwari from making or selling course packs
March 2013

Open letter signed by 309 academics calls for CUP and OUP to withdraw their suit. A petition at the same time receives a further 1,267 signatures

April 2013 - November 2014 Case heard by High Court of Dehli
September 2016 Court rules in favour of Rameshwari and UoD, lifting the injunction
October 2016: CUP and OUP file appeal against the decision of Justice Endlaw

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