DU Photocopy Case

In the Chancellor, Masters & Scholars of the University of Oxford & Ors. V. Rameshwari Photocopy Services & Anr (DU Photocopy case), which dates back to 2012, leading publishers such as Oxford University Press (OUP) and Cambridge University Press (CUP) sued the Delhi University and its authorised photocopier for copyright infringements as they involved in photocopying of various publications of the concerned publishers. The publishers obtained a temporary restraining order against the photocopier. Later, a group of students and academicians joined the battle in support of the photocopier, after which the case saw a vigorous battle in the court.

Various laws-Copyright

The Copyright Act, 1957 was framed to maintain a balance between the competing interests of the copyright owners and the interests of the public on the other. The act is aimed to prevent stagnation of the growth of creativity through sufficient protection and access to the copyright material through the doctrine of fair dealing (where listed purposes are embedded statutorily). The Indian copyright law uses the term ‘fair deal’ against the U.S’s copyright law’s usage of the term ‘fair use’.

Section 14 of the Copyright Act, 1957, grants exclusive rights like the right to reproduction on copyright owners for commercial exploitation of the work. It holds that making photocopies amounts to reproduction. Thus, photocopies made will violate Section 14 unless it is listed under Section 52 of the Copyright Act as an act not constituting infringement.

As per the Article 13 of the Trade-Related Aspects of the Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, special cases and exceptions provided in the copyright laws should not conflict the legitimate interests of the right holder.

Hence keeping in mind all these laws, the Indian judiciary determines the scope of copyright infringement case by case.

Arguments-DU photocopy case

The photocopier was involved in photocopying of course packs, which are limited excerpts from copyrighted books compiled together by the teaching staff of the University in accordance with the syllabus and teaching plan. However, the publishers objected to the move by citing that photocopying of course packs resulted in infringement of the exclusive copyright of the authors and publishers. However, the defendants argued that photocopying of course packs for educational purposes fell within the exceptions to copyright under Section 52 (1)(i) of the Copyright Act.

Judgment

After nearly four years of arguments and counter arguments. The Delhi High Court has ruled that photocopying of course packs for the purpose of education was well within the bounds of the law and did not amount to copyright infringement. The court observed that Section 52(1)(i) was wide enough to cover the acts of defendants. The nature of section 52 allows any act falling within its ambit to be free from the scope of the Copyright Act. Section 52 (1)(i) observes that reproduction of any work by a teacher or a pupil in the course of instruction does not constitute an infringement of copyright.

Further, the court held that copyright was always about maintaining a balance between competing ideas of private and public interests. The judgment is based on the premise that the end goal of technology is the improvement of our lives both materially and intellectually.

Arguments in favour of judgment

Supporters of the judgment hail the judgment to be breakthrough in the Indian copyright jurisprudence and helps in promoting ‘access to education’. In a developing country like India, when access to education itself is a challenge, many students cannot be expected to purchase expensive textbooks especially when only a certain portions of the books are relevant for their course. According to some, copyright laws are essentially enacted to balance public and private interests and the High court has amply delivered a judgement restoring this balance. The judgment is hailed as a bold articulation of the principles of equitable access to knowledge which according to many needs to be emulated worldwide.

Arguments against judgment

Those who are against the judgment disagree with the legal reasoning, methods of interpretation in delivering this judgment.  They argue that the judgment has disturbed the foundations of Rule of Law which is an essential component of Article 14 of the constitution. They say the norms under Section 52(1)(i) are more of a controlling norm rather than a limited exception.

Since copyright holders invest considerable time and money in producing books and other works, giving license to reproduction unlimitedly under Section 52(1)(i) may undermine creativity. Section 52(1)(i) grants license to reproduce everything provided in the suggested reading. If so, in some cases the suggested reading provides for the whole book. In the DU photocopy case it was found that 8 books were photocopied from cover to cover. In such cases permitting the reproduction of the whole book would kill the creativity and economic interests of the publishers.

Implications

The judgment is expected to have a far-reaching impact in academic circles and the copyright industry both within the country and outside. Globally, the copyright laws have been globalised through international conventions (Berne Convention, TRIPS Agreement etc.). The copyright lobby all around the world have been aggressively pushing for the fulfilment of their narrow commercial interests. Even for fair use and exceptions, countries around the world have been constrained by the judicial precedents and are following a set of defined quantitative restrictions on photocopying. In this context, Delhi High Court’s move is seen as a radical move which has observed that the courts should not impose artificial restrictions by way of quantitative limits.

Discussion

Universities and public libraries can be used to cater to the needs of the students without prejudicing copyright holders’ legitimate economic interests. For this the Indian universities and public libraries must honestly and effectively utilize the funds earmarked for libraries. Also, at least photocopying of reasonable excerpts may be permitted as it is not possible for the students to buy copies of every book that their course requires. Secondly, the universities can be made to pay a small amount as royalty/license fee to the publishers as an incentive for them to publish high quality academic works for the benefit of the Indian university market.

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