Sunday, March 12, 2017

[NSI Statement] NSI congratulates the students' struggle in winning the battle against corporate publishers

On 9 March 2017 three well-established academic corporate publishing houses, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor and Francis withdrew their copyright suit filed in the High Court against Delhi University and Rameshwari Photocopy Shop, a shop stationed at the Delhi School of Economics campus in Delhi University licensed by the University to carry out photocopying work. The suit that was filed in August 2012 on the grounds that photocopying material from books published by the above three publishers by university students, particularly in the compilation of coursepacks, constituted copyright infringement and revenue loss to the publishers. Right from the beginning it was clear this case was treated as a test case to instate a licensing regime, much like one that exists in the US and other First World countries. 

Being the absolute primary constituency to be impacted by such a case and its possible outcomes, students of Delhi University were amongst the first to take up the battle against some of the most powerful publishing houses in academia. The 'Campaign to Save D.School Photocopy Shop' soon became the 'Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge' (ASEAK), reflecting the growing politicisation of the student community on the issue of the knowledge commons in order to resist an increasing attempt across the world to create a market out of it where it didn't as yet exist. This can be seen in the case of Costa Rica as well where there was an attempt to make photocopying illegal, a move that was successfully opposed on a massive scale by students. 

The students of Delhi University, organised as ASEAK, opposed the move through a range of mechanisms, mobilising students from class to class, organising public meetings, taking out protest rallies, campaigning against these publishers at the annual World Book Fair held in New Delhi, influencing public opinion through writing in newspapers, and last but not the least, taking up the legal battle in the courts. NSI hails the struggle of the students that brought to the centre of the debate questions of equity and justice within the arena of production and distribution of knowledge resources, challenging the private property regime sought to be implemented in the sphere of knowledge production by these big academic corporate publishing houses.

For the last few years the primary site of the battle has been in the High Court at New Delhi. The publishers have received repeated blow after blow in this process as well, leading to their final withdrawal of the suit altogether. The win is a big victory and testament to the struggle of the students, backed by a legal team that has been seminal to the victory, along with support from the academic community. The case, that attempted to strike a 'balance' between private profits of the publishers and the rights of students to access materials in the pursuit of their education, has dealt a blow to precisely such a misconception that the two 'interests' are in fact of equal concern. 

Along with students, who assert their right over the materials they access as part of their fundamental right to education, scholars, often the authors of these materials, have equally come out to state that there is no better reward for their work as intellectuals, as to be read by as many students as can get hold of their work, photocopied or otherwise. The emphasis of the corporate publishers in asserting absolute ownership over the works they publish, in a rare instance where the labour of writing a book is provided at no cost to the publishers, borne by universities, students' fees and taxpayers' money instead, is shameful and needs to be rejected at all cost. 

NSI congratulates the students, lawyers, academics and concerned citizens who persisted in their resistance against the bullying tactics of big academic corporate publishing houses and calls on the academic community to engage with new ways of producing and sharing knowledge so as to create equitable, just and democratic structures of knowledge production.



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