This is the second part of an earlier post in which we refuted the claims made by the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisation about the ongoing copyright case filed against Delhi University and Rameshwari Photocopy Services. A group of students (ASEAK) and academics (SPEAK) have separately impleded themselves in the suit.
Gandhi, Karan Johar and Cafes?
The FRRO recycles the insidious idea that the cost to students of paying the license fee for course packs would be the equivalent of an ‘evening in a student café’. This naïve assumption could be the result of watching too many Karan Johar films in which all Indian campuses look like Riverdale and all students wear Gucci and Nike. Click here for a contrary perspective
For sure, there are a number of rich Indian students who probably spend way more on cafes than they do on books (forgive them father for they know not what they do). But when we think of articulating copyright norms, what kind of student should serve up as our policy addressee? The urban upper middle class creamy layer student who constitutes but a miniscule proportion of the totality or ones from lower economic strata that constitute the vast majority?
A group of publishers (Oxford and Cambridge University Press and Francis & Taylor) have sued Delhi University & its agent, Rameshwari Photocopy Service for compiling short extracts from different textbooks into a digest for students to use as part of their study (commonly referred to as “course packs”).
Naturally, students, teachers and even authors of these text books have protested this aggressive law suit, particularly since this is perfectly acceptable under the Indian Copyright Act, which allows for “fair use” and permits any reproduction of copyrighted works, so long as it is done in the course of educational instruction.
Yes, this is what we must do now on a large scale – bootleg education.
Thanks to the conjunction of new heights of intellectual bankruptcy with new regimes of intellectual property, a large scale attack on equitable access to education is upon us. A longer discussion on ‘Intellectual property’ is required, but the immediate provocation for this post is of course the Delhi University photocopying case. Elsewhere on Kafila, there is a post that links to a petition by authors and academics on this issue. The case, very simply is this: three big corporate publishers, namely Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor and Francis have filed a petition in the Delhi High Court, claiming infringement of copyright with regard to course packs used by students. The offender against these giant publishers is a small photocopy shop in Delhi School of Economics. As many legal experts on intellectual property and the Indian copyright law have stated, this kind of photocopying is well within the framework of the law (See some of the discussion here and here).
At the moment, however, I am not concerned with the pure legality of the issue. The question of ‘course packs’ concerns the vital interests of our society as a whole. For there was a time when teaching at the college and university level was conducted largely through substandard kunjis, or guidebooks – honourable exceptions apart, of course. Even today we have at least one of the corporate giants (that happens to be among those suing the little Rameshwari photocopier), producing slightly upmarket versions of such guidebooks. University professors willing to write a substandard book a month that fits into some course or the other, are also published by publishers like these now, euphemistically called ‘textbooks’. In an earlier time, such books of barely passable scholarship (largely plagiarized cut-and-paste jobs) would be published only by dubious publishers.