The seemingly everlasting tussle between the proponents of digital piracy and those opposing it has taken an interesting turn with the Indian government’s move that could legalize copying of textbooks and course materials. There already are reports that claim the Indian government is considering moving a petition before the World Intellectual Property Organization, seeking a change in their legislation in order to legalize copying of study materials on the grounds of helping propagate education among the masses.
All of it started when a particular photocopy shop attached to the Delhi University began offering what it calls study packs comprising of photocopied sections taken from books that have been published by Cambridge University Press, Taylor & Francis, and the Oxford University Press. This in turn has prompted the three publishers to file a suit accusing the Rameshwari Photocopy Shop of illegally selling copyrighted material.
OUP is contesting the suit, stating that selling the course packs is intended to help make course materials reach a wider section of the population by claiming there is already a legal mechanism as per Indian laws to help such a cause. “The Indian Reprographic Rights Organization (IRRO) offers a legitimate and accessible method for securing permissions, and offers copyright tariffs which are among the lowest in the world — as little as 50 paise per page,” stated OPU sources.
The Indian Reprographic Rights Organization issues licenses to institutions enabling them to make photocopies of up to 10 percent of a book, as well as making several copies of the same for use by the students.
As of now, the court has imposed a ban on producing such course packs till the matter is sub-judice.
The subject is tricky in that such a move–if legalized–will lead to massive losses for the publishers and authors once they are deprived of their royalties. As it is, educational books don’t have much of a profit margin and could be even less lucrative for the authors if the Indian government’s plea is accepted. Chile has made a similar plea, along with at least 33 international academies, as has been specifically named in the suit filed by the publishers. This includes noted Nobel Prize winning economist and author of several titles, Amartya Sen, who has written to OUP to reconsider their stand in the case.
“I do recognize that copyright is an important issue, and must be of specific interest to publishers. On the other hand, the use of sections of books for teaching purposes through ‘course packs’ has enormous educational value, particularly because of problems of affordability on the part of the students. As an OUP author I would like to urge my publisher to not draw on the full force of the law to make these ‘course packs’ impossible to generate and use. Educational publishers have to balance various interests, and the cause of education must surely be a very important one,” wrote Amartya Sen in a letter to OUP in September, 2012.
The Indian government has earlier enacted a law to “limit abusive patenting practices.” This has not been to the liking of the major pharmaceutical firms but has ensured several life saving medicines such as those used for treating HIV, TB, or cancer to be made available affordably.