Oxford University Press is facing renewed opposition from students in both India and the UK as a prolonged legal battle against the University of Delhi enters its second phase.
The original copyright lawsuit was filed in August 2012 by OUP, together with Cambridge University Press and the Taylor & Francis publishing group. The defending party are the Rameshwari Photocopy Service, based on the University of Delhi campus, who are accused of making and distributing unlicensed copies of material from OUP textbooks.
The case itself revolved around the production of so-called ‘course packs’ by photocopying shops on the University of Delhi campus. Typically these are collections of useful or relevant photocopied material taken from a variety of textbooks and academic texts. With the recent expiration of a 12 month court-mandated ban on the reproduction of any academic material by the shop, OUP are now being asked by students in both New Delhi and Oxford to drop the lawsuit in the interests of promoting more equitable access to education.
On September 27, students from the University of Delhi launched a petition on jhatkaa.org, a popular grassroots Indian activism site, asking OUP to abandon the case. The Times of India has reported that students from New Delhi are now coordinating with students in the United Kingdom to deliver the petition in person to the OUP Head Office in Oxford. The Delhi-based Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge (ASEAK) also entered the case earlier this week as a third party defendant on behalf of the Rameshwari Photocopy Service.
Natasha Adlakha, one of the leading campaigners supporting the petition, spoke to Cherwell, saying, “Course books can be unaffordable for students since they are priced very highly. Photocopied material is the only way that students from lesser means can afford to get the education they deserve. This is especially true for developing countries. You can’t choose profit over education.”
Leki Thungon, a student representative from ASEAK, said, “India is a country that has vast economic disparities. By saying students can afford to buy these books is absolutely unjust and ridiculous…Not only is this case about us defending our right to education from a moral standpoint, but if we speak the language of law, Section 52 of the Indian Copyright Act clearly outlines an exemption for reproduction of material for academic purposes”
When the first stage of the court case was filed in October last year, more than 300 academics – including 33 authors published by OUP – signed an open letter condemning the lawsuit. They wrote, “As authors and educators, we would like to place on record our distress at this act of the publishers, as we recognize the fact that in a country like India marked by sharp economic inequalities, it is often not possible for every student to obtain a personal copy of a book…The reason we make course packs is to ensure that students have access to the most relevant portions of the book without which we would be seriously compromising their education.”
Oxford University Press, however, have denied that they are forcing Indian students to purchase full price textbooks, and have insisted that they only want the shop to follow the proper licensing procedure. Speaking to Cherwell, a spokesperson for OUP said, “As publishers we strive to disseminate our materials as widely as possible; ensuring our titles are accessible to the audiences they serve whilst compensating fairly those that develop and produce high quality content. The object of the lawsuit is to enforce a collective licensing scheme in India that is already in place – The Publishers Association and the publishers involved in the case do not expect, nor have we ever expected, Indian students to purchase the books from which the segments are taken.”
“We are in full support of the creation of course packs, which can provide relevant segments of copyrighted works for students at affordable prices…Publishers cannot, however, support the unlawful copying of work for wide dissemination and without remuneration, in breach of mandatory licensing schemes. The licenses are about Rs 0.50 (approximately £0.005 GBP) per page. The licensing scheme, run by the Indian Reprographic Rights Organisation (IRRO), which is akin to the Copyright Licensing Agency in the UK, allows universities and copyshops to take out a license in order to reproduce copyrighted content in course packs.”
One Hertford third-year commented on the case, saying, “I see no reason why being poor should exempt you from paying for intellectual property, especially when prices have already been reduced for your benefit. Nothing else in the world works like that, so why should academic material be any different? There are costs involved in producing the things we need, and these have to paid for somewhere down the line if you want to make continued use of them.”