March 18, 2013

Cambridge & Oxford University presses sue Delhi University for copyright infringement — over course packs


Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and Taylor & Francis are suing a photocopying store at Delhi University for copyright infringement. The store, who they accuse of creating photocopied “course packs” in agreement with the University that include content from their textbooks, is selling these bundles for much cheaper than the original books, naturally. The presses are demanding more than US$110,000 in damages.

In a comment to Debika Ray at Al Jazeera, Manas Saikia, managing director of publisher Cambridge University Press India said, “where course packs are available, our books stop selling – even libraries stop buying multiple copies…[This affects] the income of authors and returns to publishers.”

In response to the suit, more than 309 academics worldwide have sent a letter of concern to the publishers, including thirty-three whose work was included in the allegedly infringing packets.

According to The Hindu, the letter begins,

“We are given to believe that the infringement that has been claimed is with respect to course packs that are used as a part of various social science subjects including history, politics, economics, sociology etc. As authors and educators, we would like to place on record our distress at this act of the publishers, as we recognize the fact that in a country like India marked by sharp economic inequalities, it is often not possible for every student to obtain a personal copy of a book.”

Nivedita Menon, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, said,

“We want our works to be available as widely as possible…The action is entirely to do with profit, and nothing to do with the authors, whose living expenses are met by the publicly funded university system, not piddly royalties.”

Thomas Metcalf, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote,

“As an author whose writings appear to have triggered this controversy, I am happy to accept smaller royalties on sales of my books to widen the audience, especially in a developing country such as India.”

The clash between copyright protection and the reality of educating growing populations in developing nations is an ongoing battle. As Ray heard from students and academics on the ground in India, even if the publishers were to win their case, their income would not be likely to increase quickly. Most students cannot afford the presses’ textbooks, and the cheaper course packets are their only access to course materials.

As has been noted here on MobyLives however, publishers are being savvy in refusing to cede ground to more cerebral concerns in India. It is one of the only markets worldwide with a steadily growing audience for books. For that reason, it’s perhaps understandable, and predictable, that the presses want a landmark win, to ensure that universities in India will abide by the same lucrative licensing systems used in the US, UK and Canada.

Whether it’s good for the students, that’s a different question.



Ariel Bogle is a publicist at Melville House.