Photocopying, a Necessary Infringement of Copyright.

This morning I woke up to read this post here by Passey sir (also published in the Education Post of Monday, September 17, 2012). A very interesting and valid take on the burning issue of photocopying copyrighted books, his article conveniently ignored a very important component of this entire equation – the student population. It pained me to read how biased and ignorant this piece was, especially when I know Passey sir to research his articles well and churn out some excellent stuff. I understand his article is a very general take on the issue of photocopying, but perhaps that’s the problem. It hinges on his and his wife’s opinion of how the system works. As someone who is part of the one of the premier institutes of the country and the actual hub of where this entire issue first sprang up  – Delhi University – this is my attempt to ascertain Passey sir (and everyone who agrees with the current photocopy ban) is aware of the ground reality.

To quote Mr. Passey’s article

‘Getting entire books photocopied for study is a miserable façade adopted by students who actually spend more time bunking classes,’ she [Mrs. Passey] added, and then went on, ‘such students convince themselves that hoarding text will somehow make them read and grasp all of it in the off-days between two exams.’

Dear Mrs. Passey – I have nothing to say to your argument except that it is unnecessary generalisation and borderline slander.

Moving on, here’s another bit that actually made me laugh out loud –

‘So this penchant with collecting leads us getting expensive books photocopied. It isn’t our desire to read for knowledge.’

‘It certainly isn’t,’ she replied emphatically, ‘how much research do you see getting done in our universities? All that this photocopy generation wants is to know enough to pass. The tomes of photocopied paper are for effect!’

I am sure photocopy hoarders exist in some part of the world. I am certain there must be some in the Delhi University itself. But to be perfectly honest, sir, when was the last time you visited a university and interacted with actual students? And no, University of York does not count. The students and their circumstances are different from what we have closer home. As if reading my mind, he says in the very next sentence – “Well, this was like taking the harangue a bit too far…” So it is indeed, sir. Crude generalisations (again!) are not the solution. To answer Mrs. Passey’s question, you can check the actual research getting done in DU right here –


Further down the article, Mr. Passey bashes a certain Monica who had blogged about ‘the menace’, as he calls it. He says –

She goes on defend the students by saying they need the texts from these expensive books and, though illegal, this action should not be considered wrong.

I think what Monica is trying to make us believe is sheer nonsense.

Just to paint a little picture. There is a text in my course this year – The Cilappatikaram of Ilanko Atikal – which is not available in any of the bookstores. I have scouted every bookstore near North Campus and all the major bookstores I know of in CP. My friends have checked near their respective homes and the text is just not available. So we resorted to the next best thing – buy it online.

This is what happened.

Tell me, sir, would you pay that amount for a text you need for four months and know that you will never ever pick up again? If the answer is yes, would you please buy that book and lend it to me, because I need it. But I digress.I can consider buying that book because, if worst comes to worst and I cannot find anything better, I can afford it. But it will be a one time thing, obviously, and here we need to place certain things in perspective to fully grasp the situation.

I come from a regular middle class family. My father is a Professor in Delhi University and has an average monthly income of about 60k. I am pursuing MA in English Literature, my brother is still in school and my mother is a home-maker. Now, with the semester system in place, I need new text-books every six months. There are, on an average, four papers per semester and around 7-8 texts per paper. This comes to be a total of approximately 25 texts per semester. If each book cost an affordable (by my standards) INR 500, the cost would come to be upwards of 12k, just for the textbooks, for one semester. This does not include the extra background texts that we need to refer to. My parents can afford to spend 12k on my books every six months, but that’s pretty much the limit… If it was anymore than that, they’d have second thoughts. You have a family. You run a household (I presume), so you would understand why even 12k every six months is kind of big deal when one has to consider school and college fees, life insurance payments, water, electricity, and telephone bills, loan installments, and well, you get the drift. I don’t even want to consider the possibility where each book would cost what Cilappatikaram costs.

But this is my situation, sir, and I come from a privileged household. I have a classmate who works part-time and happens to be the sole earning member of his family. Could he afford textbooks if Columbia and Oxford university Presses were to have their way? No. I have a friend whose father is a rickshaw-puller. Could he afford the books even if they would cost INR 500 per text? No.

So while on one hand the University is busy implementing quotas to ensure that students from not-so affluent backgrounds can avail decent higher education, we have foreign presses filing lawsuits and ensuring our students don’t have textbooks. How convenient.

But I know you understand that.

‘The problem of our students is quite real,’ I said, ‘and a solution is surely needed.’ I told my wife that publishers can always debate and decide to have a ‘buy a chapter’ scheme for students where only relevant portions can be ordered at a fraction of the original cost. I did add that low-cost editions or expensive books on EMI can also be offered.

Expensive books on EMI are not an option, sir, not when most of the text-books are what you call ‘expensive books’. And ‘buy a chapter’ is only convenient if we need to refer to a few chapters at best.

Finally, you suggest e-books. Sounds great but it is a positively ridiculous idea if you consider ground reality. To read ebooks, you need electronic devices, which only about 40% of the student population can actually afford. Out of these, a good number of students live on rent and do not have power back-up services. I’m sure you understand the need for electricity to use an electronic device. What do you suggest we do when there is a 10-12 hour power cut right before the day of the exam? Oh, and please don’t tell me that’s a rarity because it has happened to me not once or twice, but four times, and if all your books are e-versions than no charge in e-reader is equivalent of taking all your hard copies, locking them up in a trunk and swallowing the key.

Photocopies are a necessity, you cannot deny that. Unless low-cost editions are easily available in the market, photocopies are the only option. My suggestion to publishers like Oxford and Cambridge would be to work on producing cost-effective editions for their biggest market – the student populace – instead of wasting time, effort, and precious resources in lawsuits against Rameshwari Photocopy Shop.


23 thoughts on “Photocopying, a Necessary Infringement of Copyright.

  1. Hello Kriti,
    Just read with interest the opinions expressed by Arvind Passey and you. If photocopying is illegal, and Intellectual Property rights must be respected (they are blatantly disregarded in this country, I am sure you will agree), and costs are a major concern, especially for academic publications, what is the solution?
    I have seen that in western universities, students spend endless hours in libraries making notes of out-of-print or expensive publications. Perhaps that is the solution we must look at very seriously in India as well. But that will mean that the students don’t routinely take the easy way out of simply buying a photocopied book, and our libraries need to be very well stocked.

    I shall read yours and Arvindji’s followups with a lot of interest.

  2. Hi Rickie,

    Yes, you are right. I do agree with you. Intellectual Property rights do indeed need to be treated with the respect they deserve. Even as Bloggers, we face issues of Plagiarism everyday.

    I do not quite understand our need to look towards our western counterparts while searching for solutions. Are we incapable of finding effective solutions on our own? That aside, I believe spending endless hours in a library and getting books photocopied are not related. Would you say that students who make notes do not study from photocopies and vice-versa? I am sure you understand that it’s not even a valid argument. Would it be ok if I spent a day or two in the library, copied entire essays from expensive publications, and then conveniently e-mailed them to my colleagues? Would that cease to be plagiarism? Where exactly do we draw the line?

    I understand that photocopying is merely yet another form of plagiarism and needs to be curbed, but from a student’s point of view, it is a necessary evil, unless, like I stated, publishers can provide low-cost versions. Perhaps they can ensure that only a legitimate student is allowed to buy these copies by demanding a valid student ID card. Another possibility would be to form alliances with institutes and loan students copies of these expensive books. The system would work like any other library but with three major differences.
    1. Only textbooks would be stored thus,
    2. Books will be issued for an entire year, and
    3. Naturally, a required number of books would be made available, not just a few.

    • Hi,
      I am not quite sure why we need to be suddenly chary of looking at our western (or even eastern – Korea, Japan, Australia will do just fine, too) counterparts for solutions. If we are following their educational model in DU, styling our curriculum and teaching styles based on them, teaching from their academic publications, why not also see how their students cope with lack of access to expensive and out-of-stock books? It’s not as if we in India are brilliant at coming up with local solutions that can be called revolutionary. Had that been the case, we wouldn’t have had half the population in the country without potable water access and 60% defecating in the open even after 65 years of independence.
      Anyway, as you say, that aside, simply buying photocopied text books (times 10) is an easy way out for most students. There really is no other way to explain it. If all the courseware is based on out-of-stock text books, isn’t that something that DUSU or someone else should have taken up at some point with the Ministry of Education? Maybe 20 years ago?
      I am afraid “necessary evil” is the bane of our country. It’s the same logic that that man who is peeing behind the bushes also uses. Or the one who just paid 2000 rupees to get a driver’s license made on the sly.

      • I am afraid that your Dinesh Singh logic won’t resonate with me. Buying photocopies is not an easy way out, it is the only way out. I do not espouse it but I do not condemn it, for, given the situation, I do not see another way out. Like I told singhmv, ”Penguin, Arden, Worldview, even Norton offer comparatively affordable versions but they are more often than not out of stock. I don’t think photocopying hinders students from buying actual books. A Norton, for example is easily 800-1000 pages. Photocopying it would cost, on an average, INR500, which is close to what the books originally cost. I know I would prefer shelling 35-40 bucks more for an actual book than its photocopy.”

        As for DUSU, they are as worthless as they come. Sure, I say that they should have taken it up, but nobody has. And now we can do what we do, pass the buck, blame the government and all that jazz. I am not interested in playing games.

        I wish we could adapt these western or even eastern solutions, but the ground reality is different here. South Korean schools are all set to go paperless by 2015. With powercuts like ours, can we dream of that? No sir.

        What we can do, we are trying to. I have spoken to librarians and realised that libraries are not in a position to help. DUP is my next hope, let’s see hoe that turns out.

      • So, I guess if there is no solution, there is no solution. And if there is no solution, what can one do, right? I hope something concrete emerges from DUP. Good luck.

        Thanks for an engaging discussion.

        (PS – And I don’t know who Dinesh Singh is and what that reference was about. Somehow, I didn’t even feel like googling that to learn more)

      • If there is no solution, one searches. While we are searching, we do need to procure the books from somewhere right and that’s where photocopies had figured in. Now I don’t have much knowledge of legal affairs, but it seems that photocopies are, under certain circumstances, considered legal.

        The Indian Copyright Act has two explicit provisions that allow for educational exceptions. Copyright lawyer Lawrence Liang shows that “Sec. 52(1)(i) allows for ‘the reproduction of any work by a teacher or a pupil in the course of instruction’ or as a part of questions or answers to questions. Further, Sec. 52(1)(a) allows for a fair dealing with any work (except computer programs) for the purposes of private or personal use, including research.”


        As for Mr. Dinesh Singh, be glad you don’t know him. 🙂

      • And, thank you too, for continuing the discussion and no abandoning it midway. I blog because public opinion matters and I’ve certainly learnt a lot wrt this debate. 🙂

      • I had a good time debating this. More often than not, debate in the blogosphere degenerates into personal attacks. Good luck with the blog. Do check out mine when you have time. I try to do satire occasionally – I hope you like it.

  3. Just sharing what a friend posted on facebook a few minutes ago.

    Bikram Bora
    This is something for those who consider photocopying books as ‘copyright infringement’ and wants us to buy the originals-

    I get 5000 bucks as my monthly allowance. 1500 I pay for my hostel mess dues. 500 for buying the basic necessities. Left with 3000. That 3000 in one semester (6 months) becomes 18000. Now in one semester generally we are prescribed with a minimum of 40 books (4 courses). That is the bare minimum, (articles and essays not included) if you don’t believe me, feel free to consult the JNU curriculum. So, if we consider the price of one book to be 250 (which often exceeds that), I spend around 10000 for buying ‘original books’ in one semester. Deducting that from 18000, I’m left with 8000 for 6 months. That comes to around 1400 bucks per month, less than 50 bucks per day.

    My question to all of those sentinels of copyright, can you survive on 50 bucks per day in a metro like Delhi? We have other interests than books too, how do you expect us to fulfill them. This is almost like BPL. If you don’t have any idea about ground realities, don’t assert your fucking armchair assumptions. You curse the middle-class only every fucking discourse of yours and when someone from that class wants to have access to higher education and social mobility, you try to block that access. Education and the intellectual domain is not your monopoly, how much you try with your filthy means.

  4. Well, the point has been effectively put. But to be put across with the same effect to the concerned recipient, one has to fight all the scholastic mormons, who blindly adhere to the academically moral grounds to install themselves are wisenheimeral pillars! Its like brahmin samaj all over again minus the long tuft of hair on a well oiled shaven head! For all you know, theirs is the most compensated professional existence!

    As per my observations made in IIMC, More than just an apple a day, they are well secured with important benefits, such as health insurance and pension plans…additional benefits such as sick days and tuition reimbursement, so you’ll find that teaching actually pays a lot more than you think.! N what d’ya know, like many industries, layoffs and downsizing are rare occurrences in education field. Plus they get the privilege to munch on those fried snacks during their invigilation while our head and our belly growl louder than hundred hungry T-rexes! One of my profs, DAYAM! always kicking our nuts, going about giving us threats of expulsion every time we lift a finger before we could even articulate a question! So much in the name O’ journalism! I sit there waiting for her PMS days to get over … its your 43rd day today *sigh* still waiting. Sad, eh?

    Same shit day after day. It has gotten down to dog-fuck-dog world. Since we get fucked on daily basis, wouldn’t kill you in throwing a fuck or two back at em. Go ahead…u have my support! publish this n trail the blaze! 🙂

    If they jail you for this, it goes without saying, I’ll honor your hardass with a facebook page! 😛

  5. Interesting topic for discussion. Textbook price is an issue that not only affects students in India but here in the US too. Textbooks cost $150 -200 each. I can go on this topic for a long time, but that is not my intent. One thing you all seem to agree is that unauthorized photocopying is copyright infringement. In plain words, it is theft. You are arguing that the needs of the students justifies photocopying. I don’t think that is a defendable standpoint.
    There are libraries to provide access to rare and expensive books. In fact, a large chunk of an educational institution should be spent on acquiring such knowledge base for its students and faculty.
    On the note of publishing and its inner story, I would like to recommend the following book if you can find it:
    “The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History” by Lewis Buzbee.

    • Thanks for the recommendation. I shall definitely look up this book (if I can afford it, that is, or it will have to wait a couple of months) 😉

      Let me make it clear why exactly I am arguing for photocopies in the given context. Quite simply because the libraries have not been much help, because even in the libraries, the only decent versions are photocopies. I would redirect you to the link Supurna posted above.

      Photocopying for us students of Delhi University is a last resort. You noticed I mentioned the Cilappatikaram. That book is not available anywhere, and the edition which is available I cannot afford. Not right now, that is. Maybe in 10-15 days, but I will have my exams before that. I asked a senior to lend me his copy and he handed me a photocopy. Apparently, the book has always been unavailable and our seniors and their seniors have all been passing photocopies. What does one do in such a situation?

      • I quickly checked Penguin India and they are out of stock. Could it be possible that because of photocopying, they didnt sell many books and discontinued it? You can write to their Editorial office and ask. You may even suggest to publish it again. Sometimes, a simple request may help many more students. The same is true for libraries. Ask students to constantly write to the Librarian to get more copies of the book.
        By the way, I got so interested about this book that I just ordered a used copy from Amazon. Too bad your exam is too soon or I could lend you the book.

  6. Penguin, Arden, Worldview, even Norton offer comparatively affordable versions but they are more often than not out of stock. I don’t think photocopying hinders students from buying actual books. A Norton, for example is easily 800-1000 pages. Photocopying it would cost, on an average, INR500, which is close to what the books originally cost. I know I would prefer shelling 35-40 bucks more for an actual book than its photocopy.

    I have met librarians and representatives and have been forced to understand that there is only so much they can do. A certain librarian told me they cannot possibly store 150-200 copies of the same book (provided they have adequate funds to purchase them) due to a) space crunch, and b) the fact that libraries don’t cater to a specific course, they have to ensure availability across all courses.

    But all this has made me wonder… what exactly is our Delhi University Press doing? I am going to write to them. Though, I just looked them up and I have a feeling it won’t help much. Here are the statistics straight from the University’s website.

    Press Established on – 1st April 1961
    Maintenance Grant – 1961 to 1974
    Commercial – A/c. became commercial from 1974
    Staff Strength Sanctioned Staff- 95 (Working-16 Vacant-79)

    Sigh. I think I know the kind of answers I can expect from an organisation with is 79 short of its strength of 95. Nevertheless, high time people were jolted from their sleep.

  7. 1635 rupies for a book?!? Prices must have gone through the roof since I visited India!

    What’s in this book? The answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything?
    If that’s the case, I can let you know that this answer is already answered in another book; Douglas Adams’ “the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy”.
    The answer is, according to the book: 42. 42 is also a number which accidentally would be more suitable as a price for a book, especially a book that’s curriculum for students.

    • Haha! Yes. I’m aware. I’ve read the series. If only foreign presses believed Adams as I do. Everything would cost 42 and I’d own a private library everyone would envy. 😀

  8. Dear Akriti,

    I hear you! It’s funny when things boil down to generations coz neither has lived the other’s life. Photocopying can be a lifesaver……so I’ve learnt when I was in college. I don’t endorse ‘copying’ mind you….but yes I do understand the value of notes for a student. During our times toppers scored 90%. Today the cut off for colleges is at 92%. Times have changed, unfortunately resources haven’t. They still are scarce and out of budget.

    Does photocopying help in scoring? Maybe, maybe not….really depends on the student. But yes, it is the need of the hour, till the education system as a whole is not overhauled. Do people misuse it……yes, I am sure. But a few rotten apples are everywhere. You can’t brandish an entire generation for those few. If everything was perfect…..we’d be living in a damn TV commercial.

    Great write up! Don’t worry about the views people might have. A difference of opinion is what will set you apart from the herd instinct. Good luck 🙂

  9. hmm… after reading twenty comments, I just want to lend you a smile. 🙂
    And, you don’t need to return it, but you can share it for free to any many, for it’s copyright free! 🙂

    every line of yours, i thought during my grad when my pocket money was 700Rs per month. Library helped me.

  10. Well, I have studied in India and abroad and I find that there are two big reasons that Indian students photocopy books:

    1) There simply aren’t enough copies in our libraries.. at least there weren’t in mine. We used to have two copies of a book available to a class of 60, and the professors made it clear that we HAD to refer to said book to get marks. So should each student buy expensive copies of (often) foreign author books for about 6 subjects every 6 months? Is that feasible? When studying abroad, there were lots more copies available and we didn’t have to refer to any particular texts only. You could read other papers and books available online and as long as you understood the subject, it was fine. We literally never felt the need to photocopy.

    2) Indian professors, even at university level, often insist that answers in examinations have to contain a certain text/ diagram/ whatever from a certain author’s book. You will rarely find this concept in the west. I never actually had long question answers in any tests the west. I had multiple choice tests, essays (copy paste not allowed, they have software that checks for it), group work, presentations and individual research thesis. None of these need anything to be straight out of some book, but they test whether you can apply concepts.

    When we have fixed these issues, then we can blame the students for photocopying!

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