Photocopy shop wins case against publishers

This is the headline in most newspaper articles. No, this piece is not with me wearing a publisher’s hat. It is me wearing an author’s hat.

For the moment let’s park the issue of how this judgment affects publishers, this is about authors and especially for aspiring ones.

The judgment has expanded the interpretation of Section 52(1)(h)(i) of the Indian Copyright Act 1957. To understand what has happened, it is important to read this section. The Section reads

“Certain acts not be infringement of copyright …

(h)(i) the reproduction of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work by a teacher or a pupil in the course of instruction OR as part of the questions to be answered in an examination OR in answers to such questions.”

For students of English this is a test case. What is the meaning of “the reproduction of… in the course of instruction” mean? Here is what the honorable judge has said. The judge has stated that this means that when a teacher is teaching or a pupil is learning, either can go to a library, borrow a book, go to the campus bookstore, photocopy it for himself/herself AND for the entire class, perhaps even for several classes. Sounds so nice and that is why students are celebrating.

Like I said let’s leave publishers out of it.

I am an author of a novel (a literary work) and this is how it affects me. If a student of literature is prescribed this book (I know it’s far-fetched but please indulge me for now, thank you), the student doesn’t need to buy the book if the library has a copy. The teacher can go to the library, borrow the book and make copies of it for the entire class he/she is teaching.

Yes, you read it correctly, the ENTIRE book.

It’s gratifying that my book is being used at the university level. It could be even at the school level. My years of hard labor, is finally seeing the light of day in classrooms and I should be happy with that. But I have now lost the right to ask my publisher for royalties because royalties are subject to sales and sales are now clearly just one or two copies in the Delhi University library.

But I protest that my book is being used by literature students so it has value and I should get the value for it.

Not according to this judge; according to him I the author must be satisfied with the fact that my book is a classic being used by tens of hundreds of students. I should view the book as a labor of love and not chase “the evil money”.

Had I quit my day job and wanted to become a full time writer, I would now have to tell my family that they should be proud I am doing social work. My daughter should perhaps do her bit by not going to school or rather going to a municipal school, probably one that doesn’t even have a roof or teachers. Her education would remain at the primary level because that is all we will ever be able to afford.

My parents wont be able to afford health care because they rely on me for it…

I could go on and on painting a sorry picture and rue the day I decided to become an author. But the question goes beyond an author’s sorry plight.

Society has some basic rules we live by. One of them is “no one will illegally profit from the labor of another.” So how come my book is making the photocopy shop all the money while I, the creator of the content languish?

This case has a lot of emotional attachment for the students, the teachers, the publishers and even some authors. I am sure there will be an appeal and the matter will be revisited. But that again isn’t the point.

The basic question remains unanswered, how will anyone want to be a writer if he/she cannot be rewarded for it?

Oh yes, I am aware that Rameshwari Photocopy shop along with all the students and faculty are talking about course packs but the judgment as it reads entitles one to copy entire books. Please be aware it allows you to copy ANY book on this planet!!!

About Vivek Mehra

I am currently the MD & CEO of SAGE Publications India. But I wear many hats that make me the person I am. Between the (public) professional life and the very deep and private recesses of my brain lies a universe of thoughts, actions and beliefs. These have been shaped by events, people and perhaps Karma. It's this universe I seek to put in words. When everything else failed me professionally, it was the power of my words that not just resurrected a career but brought back life to life. It is with these words that I continue to make a difference with those whose karma connects mine. Sometimes it's direct and most times it's not. But the essence of who I am never changes and I remain a person searching for himself. Update: In 2014 I published my first book on Kindle. It was written in 1999 and it never saw the light of day. Reader input welcome...
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10 Responses to Photocopy shop wins case against publishers

  1. sanjay says:

    My Ire is not against Mr. Mehra, he is a genius and I am his fan, I realize that the blog was an administrative necessity being the position he is in, but please do not wear an author’s hat and propound your commercial interest. I strongly feel big Publishers have let down Academia, researchers, students and readers in general, the needs of research scholars and students which should be their primary objective is totally lost in their quest to earn excessive profits and its time we stand up to greedy Publishers. (Not directed against any Publisher)
    I have read with interest as to how a simple question has deliberately been beset with controversy in your replies, my views are on behalf of thousands of Students/readers who can neither afford corporate lawyers nor have the power to sway public opinion through Media contacts, someone even said that I belong to student politics :-). I am a co-publisher and my sales will be effected, but look at how the Foreign Publishers have exploited the Indian Market, each one of them has used every trick in the trade to maximize profits and then pretend to be holy cow.
    I have always wondered with amusement that Publishers filed this case when it should be the other way round. The same content is rampantly duplicated and sold first as Journals, then Books and then in different formats. Let Publishers make profits but what upsets me is that Publishers have commodified content and restricted knowledge. Rick Anderson, acting dean of the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah, stated “The bottom line is that when you have monopoly control of a high-demand commodity, you can charge whatever you want for it — so they do,

    Just for the sake of record Delhi University Buys books and Journals worth 10 crores each year, JNU has a Budget of 8 Crores and on top of it Government spends hundreds of crores to buy resources through various consortia. After buying this the Publishers now want students to pay to photocopy one/two chapters for personal use!!. Even the mighty Harvard University and many universities in US & Europe are exacerbated and cannot afford to buy costly content from commercial Publishers, it is this exploitation which is leading to OPEN ACCESS movement and the day is not so far in India also.
    I agree that it costs Publishers to produce a book/journal, but once a product is bought there should be no restrictions on fair use. on a practical level the judgement only makes it easy for students to reproduce and use the book. Nowhere it legitimizes anyone to photocopy and sell books, herein lies the difference. Piracy Laws exist and not to be confused with this judgement, the judge clearly says “reasonable educational needs” and Publishers deliberately raise false impression that after the judgment everything sold will be a photocopy.
    What are the profits earned by the Publishers before this judgement?, You just cannot be allowed to exploit in the name of book being your creation, a book is a thought process and needs to be shared. Authors publish a book for maximum sharing not for Publishers profits, no Author wants to restrict content and you know who’s the villain!!, Earning money is good, but the trouble is when you want super abnormal profits….


  2. leskels says:

    This is a fine judgement, I think. This should be further extended to cover more. It should be made legal to copy more things. Release just 1 DVD/Blu-ray of Salman Khan or Rajinikanth or whoever else’s movie, the rest can be made copies, legally. Nike should release 1 of its latest hyperspace shoes and we should be allowed to make replicas, legally. AR Rahman’s music as soon as it is released, we should be allowed to download it freely and listen to it, legally. After all, what is one person’s skill worth if it can’t used by the public at large? And yes, why oh why should we PAY for it ?

    If I were to say that there are a lot of gaps in our education system, I am late at least by half a century. Instead of addressing the core issues in the system, a judgement like this will move things retrograde, if not Neanderthal. Fine judgement, just fine photocopy-jerk reaction at its best.


  3. sanjay says:

    I begin by saying that I really read and admire your writings, but strongly disagree with your blog, you say that this article is written not wearing the Publishers hat’. I wish you were more honest with your words!!, its all over the place and amply clear who you are batting for.

    The Hon’ble Judge has delivered a very well thought out and an excellent judgement, although I am myself in this business, you will agree that Publisher are no Saints/Sages. It is highly commercialized and they will stoop at any level to maximize revenue. Good Books which are reasonably prized always sell, it is only when you try to exploit and blackmail the student the problem arises, I know from my experience once any book is recommended the Publisher’s raise prices and try to maximize revenue when the opposite should have been the norm.

    A good case in point is medicines where low prices have helped the consumer, The Hon’ble judge made this excellent judgement by unshackling the vice like grip of Publishers on content and I hope they see the writing on the wall and stop exploiting customer with your Publishing house also included.


    • Vivek Mehra says:

      It’s a democratic world. You have the right to voice your concern. That’s why I won’t delete your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Prashant says:

      Dear Sanjay
      First thing I will like to say with due respect is that I doubt if you have read the judgment.

      Coming back to your views. You are right- Publishers are no saints. Pray tell me who is in today’s world. Funny thing… even Saints are no saints today. It is a materialistic world. Let’s accept the fact. That is how the world runs. There are no free lunches. A publisher puts up a product and charges for it. You do not like to use the poduct, please do not.
      It is wrong to say that a publisher is keeping a student to ransom.

      Digressing for a moment…you said…you are in the same business… am confused…is it law, is it publishing, or, is photocopying. On second thoughts, it cannot be publishing because you have not said ‘we’ and used ‘they’.

      Coming back to the point, Please do not compare books and medicines in the same breath. Medicines, most of them, are generic, based on molecules. Same cannot be the case for books. I wonder if you go to a doctor do you visit a govt hospital or do you go to places like max or appollo or any private hospital. Do you take a bus or drive for work? Since both serve the same purpose. Do you pick your clothes from shani bazaar (or som bazar or mangal bazar) or buy them from a showroom. Am surr you are getting the gist.

      If you have to put a point forward please put them in detail because it is easy to comment on anything without knowing in detail.

      I will leave you but with a question.. Do you pay taxes? Do you pay the VAT and Service tax and Service charge, or Toll Tax? Does it pinch you even a bit? If yes…then you have your answer. If no, then Sir…you truly are a sage.


      • sanjay says:

        Dear Prashant,

        Thanks for your comments, I have no doubt that you have read the judgement, but have you understood it?

        Publishers sell books to Libraries and worldwide students have full rights to read utilize it !!. Publishers sell online e-books/journals with unlimited downloads than why are restrictions imposed on printed books. To explain you better, each foreign publisher before this judgement has thrived in the Indian Market, I request Mr. Mehra to declare his gross profit figures for the last three years, not a single Publisher is losing any money nor even one will pull out of the Indian market because of this judgement.

        While I respect Mr. Mehra he knows more than anyone else that a huge part of book profit goes to the Publisher and not to the author.

        I am happy that the Hon’ble court has not succumbed to Publishers greed of earning super profits and it is well within the rights of the students to fully utilize the Books purchased by the Library, the judgement will also encourage Publishers to price books more reasonably.


    • shafs says:

      Dear sanjay

      I could not help but read your comments with some degree of amusements. So you are saying that publishers should ideally curate content, put all their resources into logostically arranging for it to reach the market, bear the expense for all the steps involved in bringing the book from its inception to the final stage and then – bam!! Release ten copies into the market to photocopy shops and voila! Everyone is happy.

      I am surprised that you are projecting publishers in such villaneous light. I will be more surprised if you knew anything about the working cycle of the publishing industry. Do you know there are 9000 publishers in this country providing economic independence, jobs, bread on the table to more than three lakh employees and uncountable authors?

      Lets put the publsihers aside. What about the authors? So they should put all the original ideas into a book, burn the mid night oil and then, be paid for ten copies? Will they write? Or are you saying students would be happy with sub standard content since not getting value for their money would certainly take our authors to other countries.

      Everyone deserves value and credit for the work they do. Publishers are no different. You may justificably argue over price of books but that would need you to talk to each of 9000 publishers who have different business models.

      We pay so much tax on a meal because it causes instant gratification – about 5-6 kinds. But we do not want to pay for quality content?


    • Prashant says:

      Dear Sanjay

      I read your response and I will go back to few basic questions, which you chose to avoid. Believe me it will help me in understanding your turmoil better. The question was – Are you a publisher, are you a lawyer or are you a photocopier? It stemmed from your statement – “We are in the same business”. Let me take the liberty to add more options for you, Are you an Author, and lastly, Are you a Student? (I had to add the last option, because when I see around, I feel even being a student has become a big business; cannot help it but look and feel, the DU elections or the JNU elections or the Conferences. It has become big business. Sir.

      Let me also address your question – “Yes, I have read and understood the judgment”. Believe me, I read to understand and I do not read just to read. I have very well understood the judgment. Let me tell you a basic rule, law is always about interpretation and misinterpretation. It is a question of opinion and debate here as to who has misinterpreted.

      I will tell you something. There was this book which I had seen in my student days and it was an imported book (I could not afford it). It was not meant for my course and still I wanted it. (Those were the days when hardly any reprints were available). The book moved from new section to discount and further discount and finally after about 2 years, I became the proud owner of the book and I still have it.

      You are advocating about people who would not mind going and spending lot of money on coffee, movies, shopping and what not. You are also advocating about a wrong trend. This my friend, pushes me to ask you the question again – “What is your profession”? That will help me understand you better and if not, at least understand your perspective. At the moment you do not fit anywhere, not even a democrat. Right now you are simply coming across as someone who hates publishers (even though he is one, probably) and especially Mr. Mehra and his Publishing House. If that be the case, the dislike to that level, then it is a waste of my time and energy to explain the issue to you and I will bow out.

      If it is something different, then let us exchange our thoughts – it is a democracy and each one is allowed their view point. Case in point, I am fed up of newspapers, especially the ones at Delhi – It is only about AAP and BJP, Kejriwal or Jung. Well, give me a break from them.

      I am sorry, I have a habit of withering away. So let me come back. You mentioned ‘Foreign Publisher’. So is it that you are against foreign publishers? Pray tell me what is the definition of foreign publishers? Do you understand the meaning of a ‘company’registered under the Companies’ Act? It is open for you to go to the MCA site and check the balance sheet of whoever you want to?

      What toothpaste do you use? What soap do you use? What vehicle do you ride/drive? What medicines do you take? What clothes do you wear? What coffee do you take? Which laptop or mobile do you use? These are some of the questions which I will like to know then I will take this further, because I need to show you the foreign element.or the foreign company element, which is present in your everyday life.

      Do you know what? I am all confused. Are you really commenting on an issue? Or do you have a vendetta against Mr. Mehra? Do you not like SAGE? Is it a grudge against foreign publishers? I will suggest that you clear your mind, clear your thoughts and surely remove the cobwebs around you, so that you can see straight light and then we can go ahead – but not without you having responded to my questions.

      Am sure you would like to know who I am – Let me start by telling you that I was and am a student. I am also a creator. I have been a Publisher. Am a lawyer too. Did I miss something? I think I have covered it all. Oh sorry, I am not a photocopier. In fact, I detest so called students who get the books photocopied only to swallow them to pour out during the exams, without understanding a single word.

      I hope I have made myself and my stand very clear. Talking of which, let me give you another option to decide as to who you are? (I am breaking the question of you being a publisher into two – are you a foreign publisher or are you a publisher or are you just a publisher?)

      Have a good day, Sir. Still, do let me know if you choose any of the options or do I have to put up another option ‘none of them’. If that be the answer, do let me know what do you do ?


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