Sunday, February 10, 2013

Against Profit Mongering over Knowledge: Students Protest at World Book Fair

By - Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge (ASEAK)

A protest organised by ASSOCIATION OF STUDENTS FOR EQUITABLE ACCESS TO KNOWLEDGE (ASEAK), was held at World Book Fair in Pragati Maidan last Saturday (9th February) at the stalls of Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor and Francis Group. This protest was part of a series of campaigns undertaken by ASEAK on the issue of ‘copyright infringement’ provoked by the clamping down on photocopying by the three publishers beginning last year. The Association distributed more than 1000 pamphlets which discussed myths and facts around the issue of photocopying, copyright. A similar protest was held during the Delhi Book Fair at the same venue in September 2012 by the "Campaign to Save D School Photocopy Shop" (out of which ASEAK emerged). The protest saw members of the Association distributing the pamphlet and spreading information on the unfair practices of the publishers especially the ones that are University Presses and therefore claims to work for a non-profit and purportedly an educational intent. 

The members of the Association first protested at Hall no.1 where the Cambridge University Press Publishers and Oxford University Press Publishers and Hall no. 6 where Taylor and Francis were located. As in the similar protest held at the Delhi Book Fair, the protest garnered support from the visitors who also voiced the concern of the students and shared their fears of more and more inaccessibility to knowledge. 

Members of the Association also move around and engaged with students who had thronged the book fair. The protest also saw the spontaneous attendance of several people/ visitors of the World Book Fair who were aware of the plight of the students and the long term repercussion of such a clamp down on the state of education in this country. 

Delhi Book Fair Sept. 2012: CUP called Delhi Police to chase out protesters 
Delhi Book Fair Sept. 2012: A member of the campaign engaging with visitors
The Myths Propagated by Profit Mongering Corporate Publishers:

In August 2012 Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis Group filed a case against a Delhi University licensed photocopy shop and Delhi University claim damages in excess of Rs. 60 lakhs. According to them the compilation of syllabus prescribed readings into Course Packs is an infringement of their copyrights. The figure of 60 lakhs is a calculation of the profits forgone if students were to purchase every book that is referred to in the syllabus (including those readings that only include 1 or 2 chapters) if not for the course packs. Below are some popular myths around this case.

Myth 1: Photocopying of reading material by students is illegal

Fact: The Indian Copyright Act 1957 provides an exception to infringement of copyrights in the context of educational use. Section 52 deals with those acts that will not be counted as infringement of copyright, and amongst others, Article (h) of the section states: “(h) the reproduction of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work- (i) by a teacher or a pupil in the course of instruction; or (ii) as part of the questions to be answered in an examination; or (iii) in answers to such questions” does not amount to an infringement of copyright. The law was thus framed in such a way as to recognize the primacy and importance of first ensuring access to education in a developing country like India, and only then attending to concerns of copyrights. Moreover, the notion of copyrights was introduced to further intellectual and creative activity and therefore to protect the interest of authors, not to serve the interest of publishers.

Myth 2: Photocopying of reading material by students is a theft of the author’s labour

Fact: No academic author would dream of growing rich on money gained from their book’s sales. They get paid pittance from the publishers in the name of royalties. Instead, most academic authors are employed by universities that provide the resources and environment for the production of academic texts, in addition to providing remuneration in the form of salaries for the intellectual labour they put in. Moreover, several well known authors have voiced their discontent against the publishers including Amartya Sen, Nivedita Menon and several others who even signed photocopies of their books and presented them to libraries in Delhi University thereby expressing the view that they consider photocopies of their work as valid educational material. This is a clear testimony that authors, especially academic authors, write to be read and not because they earn their living from royalties of their books. The dissemination of her ideas is the author’s prime concern. Finally, universities that employ academics are funded by the state and through students’ fees. So the remuneration for the intellectual labour that goes into producing books that are part of our courses comes from public funds.

Myth 3: If students were to buy the syllabus prescribed books from the publishers it would cost them “a couple of extra coffees per month”!

Fact: The cost of books prescribed per semester in most courses runs into several thousands. Therefore, the assumption that spending the extra bucks to purchase the books referred to in syllabi will amount to nothing more than “a couple of extra coffees or a Dominos pizza” is patently incorrect if not arrogant. More importantly, however, such views assume that all students come from an affluent background and are only being stingy in not paying up for the publishers products. This is a most ignorant remark that tries to simply erase the experience of the many who struggle against severe odds just to make it to the institutions of higher education in our country. Moreover, it is uncomfortably at peace with the idea that higher education may only be restricted to the rich. The proposal that universities should buy photocopying rights from publishers where they get a per page royalty simply disregards our law that already has exceptions for photocopying for educational purposes, an exception that prioritizes education over copyright.

The Hindu report on the 9th February protest at the World Book Fair by ASEAK ( the report does not mention that the protest was organised by ASEAK):

-Madhur Tankha

On the penultimate day of the New Delhi World Book Fair at Pragati Maidan, two dozen students of Delhi School of Economics and Ramjas College and Department of Political Science & History tried to convince visitors that photocopying reading material by students for their course study was a justified act.

At 3.30 p.m., the Delhi University students stood outside the stalls of the Oxford University Press (OUP) and the Cambridge University Press (CUP) distributing releases “condemning attack of corporate publishers on students” to everyone entering these stalls. Around 1,000 releases were distributed to visitors, including students from universities in Rajasthan and Hyderabad.

According to Usman Javed, an M.Phil student at the Department of Sociology, OUP, CUP and Taylor and Francis Group had in August last year filed a case against a DU-licensed photocopy shop and the varsity claiming that course packs that were being distributed are in violation of copyright.

“We want to tell the public that compilation of syllabus prescribed readings into course packs is not an infringement of copyrights. The Indian Copyright Act, 1957, provides an exception to infringement of copyrights in the context of educational use. Article (h) of Section 52 states that the reproduction of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work by a teacher or a pupil during the course of instruction or as part of the questions to be answered in an exam or in answers to such questions does not amount to an infringement of copyright.”

The copyright law was framed in a way to recognise the importance of ensuring access to education in a developing country like India and only then attending concerns of copyrights. Usman, who hails from Allahabad, said if a student pursuing Masters in Sociology was all purchase all his books from the publishers, then he or she would incur an exorbitant expenditure of Rs. 80,000.

“On top of it, we have to pay course fees of Rs.8,000 and pay for our accommodation.”

Arguing that it was the authors who were the brain behind these academic books, Usman said Jawaharlal Nehru University Professor Nivedita Menon had convened a meeting at Delhi School of Economics in last October. “Authors, including Centre for Study of Development Societies Fellow Aditya Nigam and Sociology Department’s Satish Deshpande got their books photocopied and distributed them among students. Thereby, giving them sanctity of legal validated educational material. This clearly demonstrates that academic authors write to be read and not to earn royalties from their books.”

Speaking to The Hindu, Prof. Ashis Nandy, who turned up at the author’s corner, said some leverage should be given to students.

“We have had so many instances where students have not been able to get books of their choice. Our libraries need more books and we need a movement of sorts to strengthen local libraries. If I want to gift some of my books which library should I approach?”

Vasundhara Jairath, doing Ph.D. from the Department of Sociology, said the need of the hour was to make the book affordable for students.

“Students across the country are heavily dependent on studying from photocopies. If we have a choice we would rather study from books. But most of the books in higher education are unaffordable. Why cannot academic authors get their books published from the DU press, which is reduced to printing question papers? Royalty earned from books published from big publishing houses is pittance. Academic authors are employed by the DU which pays them salaries for the intellectual labour and also provides them resources and environment for the production of academic texts.”


Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge (ASEAK)

President: Apoorva Gautam
General Secretary: Usman Javed
Treasurer: Leki Thungon



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