The Copyright Fight

A battle over copyright unfolds around one man and his shop

01 October 2012
Publishers are claiming Rs6 million in damages from Shyam Singh’s Rameshwari Photocopy Service and the University of Delhi.
MANAS ROSHAN FOR THE CARAVAN
Publishers are claiming Rs6 million in damages from Shyam Singh’s Rameshwari Photocopy Service and the University of Delhi.
MANAS ROSHAN FOR THE CARAVAN

SHYAM SINGH SAT AMIDST HIS COPY MACHINES, distractedly reading the day’s newspapers. Every now and then he looked up to speak to his shop assistants—guiding them on a small order, instructing them to return a bit of change. In his corner shop next to the canteen of the Delhi School of Economics, students were no longer rushing in and out, crowding Singh’s table with books and sheaves of paper. Since August, business at Rameshwari Photocopy Service has been slow.

Seventy four-year-old Singh is the unlikely centre of a storm that is blowing through the Indian academic publishing industry. On 14 August, publishers Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis, filed a suit against Singh’s shop and the University of Delhi. They claim that his photocopied coursepacks—bound collections of course material—are in violation of The Copyright Act, 1957, specifically Section 14 (a), which gives the holders of the copyright exclusive rights over reproduction of material. The petition also demands Rs6 million in damages. The Delhi High Court has temporarily put a stop to the reproduction of the copyrighted texts. The first brief hearing was held on 27 August and the next was scheduled for the end of September. Singh, it appears, has a long struggle with the law ahead of him, in a case that has far-reaching implications for publishing and access to knowledge in the country.

Support for Singh gathered quickly: following the court summons, an online petition against the case was circulated, publicised through a Facebook campaign. The New Socialist Initiative, a Left collective active at the university, circulated pamphlets in support of the photocopiers and approached Lawrence Liang of the Bangalore-based Alternative Law Forum (ALF), an expert on the politics of copyright, for assistance. The NSI and the ALF, whose lawyers are advising Singh on the case, also organised a seminar on copyright in Delhi early in September. At the seminar, Liang explained the details of the lawsuit, pointing out the fair-use exceptions in Section 52 of the law, and said, “We should make sure that it goes to court, and that the University doesn’t cow down to the publishers’ demands.” Students even gathered outside the Oxford and Cambridge stalls at the Delhi Book Fair this September to protest the publishers’ decision to pursue legal action against Rameshwari.

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    Manas Roshan  is an independent journalist based in Delhi.

    Keywords: Alternative Law Forum Delhi School of Economics Lawrence Liang Indian Copyright Act 1957
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