Quality and affordable education to all students is one of the instrument that can help India to harnessing its demographic dividend . However, the recent case of Academic publishers challenging the right of Indian students to photocopied texts, (case turned down by the Delhi HC) depicts a deviation from this narrative. The article seeks to throw light on the underlying dilemmas pertaining to copyright laws in the context of Higher Education.
Relevance of the case:
The case raises fundamental questions about the nature and extent of private property in collective context of scholarship and higher education. These questions can be analysed in terms of following dimensions:
? Commercial Nature of Academic Publication
? Copyright Law and affordability of higher Education
? Technological transformation of publishing
? Academic Publication in context of Indian Copy Rights Act
a.) Commercial Nature of Acad Publications
The commercial academic publishing is not a commercial enterprise in a typical sense. Almost nothing is paid for their inputs or key services (refereeing and editorial oversight), yet full ownership rights are nevertheless claimed over the products they acquire from the intellectual commons.
All the value addition that is made by the publication houses is editing, copy editing, distribution, keeping a book in print, providing differentially priced editions. However it is precisely the above mentioned areas where the standards have been falling sharply in recent times.
Moreover being a secondary source of income to the intellectuals, the payments made to these intellectuals for their academic contributions stand nowhere in comparison to their salaries from Parent Institutions (generally Public Universities and Research centres).
b.) Copyright Law and affordability of higher Education
Secondly, the quality higher education is not compatible with an overzealous copyright law. Higher studies in Universities requires wide horizons of understanding, which leads to inexhaustible and dynamic reading list. Buying the readings for even a single course at market prices therefore can easily add up to tens of thousands of rupees, turning a masters degree into an unaffordable multi-lakh luxury. Also, even if an alternative is sought to address this issue — like licensing systems that accumulate tiny commissions from thousands of retail outlets — it will face insurmountable obstacles in India ( as it has been proved hard to implement in advanced economies as well).
c.) Technological transformation of publishing
Thirdly, an argument can be made in favour of open access to scholarly material in context of technological transformation of publishing. Today, digitisation and internet-based distribution threatens to make publishers redundant. Monopolistic pricing and predatory copyrighting have been pushed the hardest by publishers of scholarly journals, and their aggressive greed has provoked a backlash. As a result some the richest universities on earth have chosen to challenge commercial publishing. For example an international consortium of academic libraries, Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) is “working to correct imbalances in the scholarly publishing system”, and has more than 800 members on four continents.
d.) Academic Publication in context of Indian Copy Rights Act
Finally, there is a need to see academic publications the light of provisions and intent of the Indian Copyrights Act. The academic publications are peripheral to the Indian Copyright Act, which (the Act) is mainly concerned with mass-market, high-value intellectual property like software, films or popular music. The Copyright Act is meant to prevent stagnation of the growth of creativity. It seeks to maintain a balance between the competing interests of the copyright owners on the one hand and the interests of the public to have access to works on the other. This doctrine, which is essential for research and academic purposes, is an exception to copyright holders’ exclusive rights.
Undoubtedly, the judgment, which is a breakthrough in the Indian copyright jurisprudence, is a major victory to access to education in a developing country like India. It will certainly have a far-reaching impact in academic circles as well as on the copyright industry. When access to education itself is a challenge, none of the students can be expected to purchase expensive textbooks, especially when syllabi prescribe certain portions from various books. Universities are expected to cater to students’ reading requirement without prejudicing copyright holders’ legitimate economic interests. Universities need to honestly utilise funds earmarked for libraries and similar purpose. The students’ demands can be met reasonably by permitting reproduction of reasonable excerpts.