Thursday, September 19, 2013

Some Questions Regarding the Proposed Jawaharlal Nehru University Press!

- By Some Concerned Students of JNU

A recent news article (‘JNU, Oxford University Press tie-up on the anvil’, The Hindu, 06.09.2013) brought to light a possible tie-up between the Jawaharlala Nehru University (JNU) Press and Oxford University Press (OUP) as well as journals of international repute to publish work of students and faculty in JNU. The question of the JNU Press has featured prominently in the recent election campaign of the All India Students Association (AISA) this time and it appears to be high up on the agenda of the newly elected JNU-Students Union (JNUSU). While we wholeheartedly welcome the idea of the JNU Press and AISA’s enthusiasm about it, we would like to articulate a few concerns about the nature of this soon-to-be-revived press. 

The news of JNU’s tie up with the Oxford University Press has bothered us deeply. Of late, the Oxford University Press (along with two other publishing houses) have filed a lawsuit against a licensed photocopy shop in Delhi University, claiming that course-packs (photocopy compilations of reading material), being prepared for students of the University amounts to 'copyright infringement'. Claiming damages to the tune of 70 lakh rupees, the publishers have presently managed to obtain a stay order from High Court of Delhi on the production of course-packs, and effectively much of photocopying. Solutions are being offered in terms of licensing agreements of cartels of such international publishers which will determine the terms, costs and extent of photocopying. All of this when the Indian law, in the form of the Copyright Act, 1957 [section 52 (h), (i)] exempts reproduction done for educational purposes from the purview of copyright infringement. Further the law sets no limits on the extent and terms of photocopying. A students association (Association of Students Equitable Access to Knowledge) have organised to fight this matter in court in order to preserve the safeguards offered by law which this lawsuit seems to overlook. Many international journals also enforce similarly restrictive terms of usage and reproduction, in the name of licensing agreements, owing to which universities several universities across the world cannot afford access to them and even the likes of Harvard University have had to cancel subscriptions to many international journals which have become unaffordable even for them.

The above-mentioned tendencies of big publishing houses like Oxford University Press (OUP), Cambridge University Press (CUP) and Taylor and Francis reflect the thrust towards rising expenses of education, corporate control over knowledge, restriction of students’ (through copyright and licensing pressures) access to knowledge controlled by them, and attempts to kill knowledge that critiques global capital. Corporations like these are in fact the ones spearheading the Neo-Liberal charge in the field of knowledge production. A tie up with such publishing houses goes against students’ interests on one hand, and retreat from JNUSU’s long standing principle position against Neo-Liberalism. At the same time, we find many small publishing houses working with an avowed aim of taking forward the project of social justice and the struggle for an egalitarian society. In keeping with JNUSU’s commitment to these goals, it is only fitting that JNU Press ties up with such publishing houses/groups and works towards building a publishing collective that challenges the status-quo in general and the monopolistic tendencies of global publishing corporations in particular. While urging the JNUSU to do so, we appeal to them to make a public declaration of the agreements entered into with OUP (if any) so far, as it is a matter of grave concern for all students of JNU and for the integrity of the JNUSU’s principled Left politics. We would like to ask them, despite being aware of the oppressive nature of OUP, why they even thought of a tie-up with them, and what sort of autonomy of the JNU Press did they envisage despite this tie-up. Why is the JNUSU’s effort not directed towards strengthening the JNU Press without the 'label' of monopoly publishers? Why is their endorsement so necessary? And why is such a blind eye being turned towards the politics of monopoly publishing?

Please join a discussion on this matter: Wednesday, 5 pm, 25th September 2013, TEFLA, JNU


riju said...

Dear Some Concerned Students of JNU,

Thanks for highlighting this serious issue. Unfortunately will not be able to join the discussion on 25th.

I am an ex-student of JNU and is especially interested in the topics of 'free knowledge', 'open access', and legal and technical issues related to all that.

I sincerely think that there should be a demand tor JNU to set up an institution-wide Open Access Archive to collect all works published by the members of the University (including faculty and students) and make it accessible, at least within the University network.

Similarly, any journals to be published by the University must necessarily be an Open Access journal, and *not* the kind of Open Access journals where the authors (or the institutions they are part of) have to pay a fee to be published. Such Open Access journals can either be published in partnership with OUP or other commercial houses (this reduces the burden of distribution of the print copies) or can be done independently. In either case, the online/digital copies of the journal must be openly accessible (and not only within the University network).

Sorry for not being able to come on Wednesday.

Would love to have a chat on this topic later.

Also, the Software Freedom Day celebration is being organised today at 2:00 pm in Constitution Club, Rafi Marg. Here are the details: Please come if you are interested.



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