Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge (ASEAK)
In the on-going lawsuit filed by corporate publishers’ (OUP, CUP AND Taylor & Francis) in Delhi High Court against Delhi University and its licensed photocopying agency, Rameshwari Photocopy Services, to which students (ASEAK) and authors (SPEAK) are also defendants, the plaintiffs have been trying to make a case for Indian Reprographic Rights Organisation (IRRO), and arguing that licensing agreements issued by this body can enable ‘legally permissible’ use of copyrighted material. IRRO itself claims to be a society formed for issuing licences over copyright holding work, acting on behalf of ‘Owners of Copyright’. It also claims that their license is mandatory for all government/ private institutions, libraries, photocopy shops, etc.
In a significant move, the registration of IRRO was refused by Government of India. In a communication from Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) accessed by SpicyIP, a leading web platform on Intellectual Property in India, the registration was refused on grounds of IRRO not being able to comply with procedural requirements like mandatory General Body Meeting, etc. This is an important event in the light of the claims being made by the plaintiffs in this case.
The news of IRRO's registration being refuted is hugely important as it takes out the licensing possibility thereby strengthening our argument that we do not need to pay for a right! According to our reading of the law, section 52(1)(i) of the Indian Copyright Act provides an exception to reproduce material (through photocopying) as long as it is for educational use. This constitutes the matter as one of competing rights where the academic community's (students and teachers) rights are safeguarded within the law, as against the commercial interest of publishers. This case will have immense impact on how Universities across India provide study material to their students. Considering the enormity of this impact, the news of the IRRO registration being refused is a big development that could ensure students right to equitable access to educational material.
Further, the licenses being offered this agency have three major problems: they set a limit on the extent of photocopying (even when the law does not place any such limits), the licenses give IRRO the authority to change costs and terms of photocopying at their will and, the licences do not cover all publishing agencies. Most importantly, the IRRO license demands students to pay publishers for a right that they do not have! The publishers or the IRRO, which has now been refused registration by the government, do not have the right to charge students for reproduction (photocopying) of material for educational use. The law does not give them that right, and clearly, students do not need to pay for a non-existent right.
In today’s (10th December) hearing of this matter in the High Court, the counsel for Delhi University, Senior Advocate Gopal Subramaniam argued that students should be identified as a supervening class with rights, and that their access to knowledge is a responsibility for the State as well as the University. Further, the Right to Education as a fundamental right demands a sustained effort to make knowledge accessible for students. He also argued that publishers, who are facilitators in this access, have become hardened business minded agencies and are seeking to tap all sources of profit. He concluded that the injunction on coursepacks prevents access to knowledge, and it is a concern of public interest which has compelled students as well as academics to intervene in this case.
For more on the issue of IRRO registration being rejected please see this post on SpicyIP.
General Secretary, ASEAK
Ph: +91- 9910898070