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Publishers lose copyright case against Delhi University’s Photocopy shop

In an important judgment certain to have a far reaching impact on Copyright Law in India, the Delhi High Court yesterday ruled in favor of photocopiers and students by holding that photocopying of textbooks for educational needs of students does not amount to copyright infringement.

This judgment means that the Rameshwari Photocopy Shop (a small photocopy shop situated in the North Campus of the Delhi University) has managed to successfully stand against the might of globally renowned publishers (including Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Taylor & Francis) which sued it for copyright infringement alleging that bulk photocopying of textbooks by students was causing them financial losses students had stopped buying textbooks, preferring to simply purchase or copy relevant chapters at a meagre amount.

The stand of the photocopy shop and the Delhi University (which backed this shop throughout) was that photocopying enabled the students to have easy and affordable access to education material and was thus in the larger interest of the society.

This gave rise to the following important question of law which the Court had to settle –

Whether photocopy of books by students and academicians would qualify as a fair dealing under the Copyright Act, 1957 if the same was beyond affordability for the academia.

The High Court opined on the scope of “educational exception” under “fair dealing” as laid down under Section 52(1) of the Copyright Act, 1957.  Some of the lines of arguments taken by the Plaintiffs, amongst others, were to the effect that “publishers are not charity houses” and “why should they give out their work for free”.

The Hon’ble Judge held that the alleged infringement was covered under the exception of fair dealing as per section 52(1) of the Copyright Act, 1957 hence there was no infringement on part of the defendants. The Judge further quoted that “Copyright is not a divine right”, stating that Delhi University or any of its agents had the right to photocopy whether inside or outside the campus, if and when the same is for educational use and not commercial use.

This case attracted huge media attention and was greatly talked about in academic circles, colleges, publishing houses and the intellectual property law fraternity.

Irrespective of the fact that whether one agrees with this judgment or feels that the publishers have been hard done by, it is undeniable that this judgment settles an important debate under the Indian Copyright Law, at least for now, the same being liable to an appeal in the higher court.