This article is written by Srishti Gupta. Srishti is a fourth-year law student from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, GGSIPU.
The Delhi High Court clearly recognised the socio-economic realities of the India in the case of THE CHANCELLOR, MASTERS & SCHOLARS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD & ORS. V. RAMESHWARI PHOTOCOPY SERVICES & ANR. and caused a major victory to access to justice.
The suit was filed before the Delhi High Court in 2012. In September 2012, an order directing DU to examine the proposal of the plaintiffs that they obtain a license from Reprographic Rights Organisation such as IRRO for preparing course packs was passed. In October 2012, Rameshwari was restrained by the order of the Court from making or selling course packs until final disposal of the application for interim relief.
The first issue raised was whether the making of course packs by the defendant amounted to infringement to which the defendant contented that this question shall arise only if the making of course packs is not protected under Section 52.
The Court then noted that making of course-packs would fall under Section 52(1)(i) which states that the reproduction of a work by a “teacher/ pupil in the course of instruction” would not constitute infringement. The question now before the court was whether the interpretation of this section was restricted to an individual teacher and an individual pupil or whether it would extend to an institution and its students.
The Court unequivocally held that it cannot be so restricted especially when considering the societal realities. Education in India has for long been institutionalised and therefore, the law cannot and should not be interpreted in such a fashion that it does not reflect the realities of our education system.
The second main contention was with respect to the interpretation of the term “course of instruction” where the court held that the legislature specifically chose to use the word instruction rather than lecture, and therefore, the interpretation of the term “instruction” cannot be limited to that of lecture.
The Court then attempted to determine when the imparting of instruction begins and ends in a university. To this effect, the Court examined various judicial interpretations of the phrases “instruction” as well as “in the course of” and came to the following conclusion that “in the course of instruction” would include reproduction of any work while the process of imparting instruction by the teacher and receiving instruction by the pupil continues. This process begins from the time when the teacher starts to prepare himself/herself for the purpose of teaching the students to the time when the student prepares notes to reproduce what was taught to him or her. This shall also include clarifying doubts, holding tests and answering questions in the examination. Resultantly, reproduction of any copyrighted work by the teacher for the purpose of imparting instruction to the pupil as prescribed in the syllabus during the academic year would be within the meaning of Section 52 (1)(i) of the Act.”
The Court approached this issue from a different angle as well and noted that a student issuing a book from the DU library and copying the same, whether by hand or by photocopying for her private or personal use would be protected under fair dealing. Therefore, it was absurd to state that if the DU did the exact same act as a direct result of its resource constraints, then the action of DU would constitute infringement and not be protected under fair dealing.
Hence, the Court stated, “When the effect of the action is the same, the difference in the mode of action cannot make a difference so as to make one an offence.” The Court held that it was irrelevant whether DU was making the course packs by itself or had licensed it to a contractor as long as the impugned act was protected under Section 52.
Moreover, the Court stated that Rameshwari was not a competitor of the plaintiffs and if Rameshwari was not permitted to do so, the consequence would not be that the students would buy the textbooks. Instead, they would have to resort to sitting in the library and copying out the pages by hand.
The Delhi High Court also clearly explained the nature of copyright thus: “Copyright, specially in literary works, is thus not an inevitable, divine, or natural right that confers on authors the absolute ownership of their creations. It is designed rather to stimulate activity and progress in the arts for the intellectual enrichment of the public. Copyright is intended to increase and not to impede the harvest of knowledge. It is intended to motivate the creative activity of authors and inventors in order to benefit the public.”