On Friday, September 17th 2016, the Delhi High Court dismissed three publishing agencies’ suits against Rameshwari Photocopy Service at Delhi University. The University Press, the Cambridge University Press, and Taylor and Francis publishing company had sued Rameshwari over copyright infringement. They had accused the photocopy service of making and selling copies of books that they had originally published and for which they held copyrights. The Justice, Rajiv Sahai, dismissed their accusation, claiming that, “Copyright is not an inevitable, divine, or natural right that confers on authors the absolute ownership of its creations.”
Hudson Institute’s Modi: Two Years On report stated that the Narendra Modi administration has been attempting to make India a knowledge economy. Accomplishing this feat requires creating an environment where Intellectual Property (IP) rights are protected. The 2016 IP Rights policy’s aim was to make a “Creative India, Innovative India” in order to attract increased foreign investment. However, the protection of IP rights needs to be balanced with reasonable access to resources by individuals, and therein lies the problem of IPR policy.
The aforementioned copyright case began in 2012, and at the time the New Delhi High Court restrained the photocopy shop from “making or selling… the plaintiff’s publication or substantial portion by compiling the same either in a book form or in the form of a course pack.” As a reaction to the banning of photocopies at Rameshwari Photocopy, the Association of Students’ for Equitable Access to Knowledge (ASEAK) was formed in 2012. They argued that banning the photocopying of textbooks was redundant in a “world that is moving towards open access to knowledge.” During the hearing in September this year, the Justice agreed with ASEAK and added that under Section 52 of the Copyright Act, 1957, education is exempted from copyright infringement, and as such the photocopy shop is protected from the plaintiff’s accusations in the same manner that a library would be.
Section 52 of the Copyright Act of 1957 details those acts that do not constitute an infringement of copyright. While the section does mention instances where reproduction of original content is allowed for educational purposes, there are strict limitations that are also included. For example, according to Section 52(1)(g) a “literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work” can only be reproduced as a compilation if it is “mainly composed of non-copyright matter, and does not contain “more than two such passages from works by the same author [and] are published by the same publisher during any period of five years”. Similarly, Section 52(1)(a) refers to private use and research and section 52(1)(o) specifically provides a limitation of three copies of a book for the use of a library only if it is unavailable for sale in India. Section 52(1)(p) also waives copyright infringement for reproduction of material for private study, however only as long as the original material is unpublished.
What stands out in this case is that the Copyright Act, while amended in 2012, remained the same during the November 2012 and the September 2016 court proceedings. However, the court produced verdicts that were polar opposites - first banning the photocopying and then later disregarding the importance of copyrights. The vagueness in India’s copyright laws, and intellectual property right policies are apparent in this reversal of tone. The affordability of textbooks and legitimate resources that allow “equitable access to knowledge” for students is part of an academic institution’s resource pool. As pointed out in a statement made by ASEAK, the infringement of copyright is a symptom of a larger issue, which is that DU’s system “is unable to meet simple demands of students studying in universities”. Authors and academics that utilize publishers such as the Cambridge University Press, Taylor and Francis publishing company, and the University Press, do so in order to be able to distribute their work while having their intellectual property protected. Allowing a photocopy store at a university to continue to make copies sets a precedent for future copyright disputes that may not be appreciated by international publishing agencies.
IPR policy and legislation are always a tricky balancing act to achieve because one has to weigh the rights of IP holders as well as the cost of accessibility. However, judgments such as this display a lack of consistency and ambiguity in India’s IPR laws. As India attempts to become a knowledge economy, the dialogue around protecting knowledge will require change so that it is on par with the one that is prevalent around the world.