Should photocopying of textbooks be banned?

Many of us must be aware of the surge by the publishers and few policemen against photocopying of textbooks. They intended to bring a copyright action against Delhi University and a tiny photocopy shop licensed by it, seeking to restrain them from supplying educational course packs to students.

The sudden action flummoxed many, but fueled up the intellects to discuss about the issue. Basically, for those not familiar with the term, course packs are compilations of limited excerpts from copyrighted books, put together painstakingly by faculty members in accordance with a carefully designed syllabus and teaching plan.

The publishers are seeking an outright ban on all course packs, even those that extract and use no more than 10 per cent of the copyrighted book. Under the United States of America law, reproducing up to 10 per cent of the copyrighted books is “fair use” of a copyrighted work, and therefore legal.

In contrast, India is a developing country, with poorer students and more severe educational access constraints. Our system is a vulnerable one which requires the technique of cheap priced good education.   

The section 52(1) (a) of the Indian constitution embodies the fair use exception and permits any fair dealing of a copyrighted work for the purpose of research and private study. Such exemptions reflect a clear intention to exempt core aspects of education from the private sphere of copyright infringement. Devitalizing these exceptions at the behest of publishers will strike at the very heart of our constitutional guarantee of a fundamental right to education for all.

The fact that majority of educational textbooks are priced above the affordability range of an average Indian student is well known. The claim by publishers that course packs would destroy their market for books and put them out of business is therefore highly questionable.

If a person needs only an extract from the whole book, he cannot afford to buy the whole book worth thousands. That would be foolish. Yes, there are libraries where books can be read. But, you never know that the same book is available at the time of need or not.

Slashing of rates may be a positive step in this direction. Let’s hope that the publishers will give a thought to it, apart from thinking of minting more money.  


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