Student book publishers and the issue of fair use

By Sana Jaffri, Lall Lahiri & Salhotra
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Intellectual property litigation rarely excites large sections of the public enough to form passionate opinions and take sides. Recently however, a case filed by a group of publishers of academic books against Delhi University and a small photocopying shop affiliated with the university has provoked widespread debate among media and academic personalities, students, teachers and large sections of the public.

At the heart of the debate is the question of “fair use” of copyrighted works. The dispute arose because the photocopying shop was copying and selling to students certain sections of books published by the plaintiff publishing houses. The publishers alleged that this amounted to an infringement of their copyright in the works. The high drama in the matter is the result of an Anton Piller order being passed by Delhi High Court, appointing a local commissioner to visit the premises of the shop and make an inventory of “the infringing/pirated copies” of the plaintiffs’ publications.

Public need

There is no doubt that photocopying of a book, in particular, significant extracts of a book, amounts to infringement. The law, however, recognizes the public need to access certain works without permission and therefore certain exceptions have been created under the rule of fair dealing. The main question in this case is whether the actions of the university and the shop fall under the exceptions.

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Sana Jaffri is a senior associate at Lall Lahiri & Salhotra, which is an IP boutique based in Gurgaon.

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