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.