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Photocopy shop wins case against publishers

Updated: Jan 1, 2020

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!!!

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