DU Photocopy Case explained

The Chancellor, Masters & Scholars of the University of Oxford vs Rameshwari Photocopy Services & Anr.
Regular First Appeal No. 81/2016
Date of Judgment: 09-12-2016

One of the critical judgments in copyright law is The Chancellor, Masters & Scholars of the University of Oxford vs Rameshwari Photocopy Services & Anr. It is commonly referred to as the DU photocopy case.

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In this case, a major publisher sued a photocopy shop in one of the colleges of the University of Delhi for copyright infringement because the defendants were making course materials for students by photocopying the publishers’ books.


The suit was initiated by Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press along with the Taylor & Francis Group as the “plaintiffs” against the Rameshwari Photocopy Service (Defendant 1) and the University of Delhi (Defendant 2) as the “defendants.”

Plaintiffs contended that the defendants were photocopying, reproducing and further distributing the copies of their work without permission.

The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants were compiling copies of their work without authorisation, along with substantial materials from different renowned publications, and then selling those compilations as course packs to students on a large scale. Hence, the plaintiffs claimed the infringement of their copyright and further applied for legal relief of permanent injunction.

Further, the plaintiffs alleged that Rameshwari Photocopy Service was selling these course packs as per the syllabus issued by the University of Delhi, and it was the faculty of the University of Delhi that encouraged their students to purchase the course packs instead of purchasing authorised copies of the books.

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The plaintiffs also pointed out that the library of the University of Delhi was providing the books in its stock to the Rameshwari Photocopy Service to produce said course packs.

Upon reasonably adhering to the claims made by the plaintiffs, the court appointed a commissioner and instructed them to visit Rameshwari Photocopy Service without prior notice, enlist an inventory of all the related infringed copies, and further seize them.

While the lawsuit was underway, the Society for Promoting Educational Access and Knowledge (SPEAK) and the Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge (ASEAK) petitioned the High Court to be included as a “necessary party.” They were impleaded as defendants number 4 and 3, respectively, after their petitions were approved.

Issue Raised

Whether making course materials for students by photocopying result in copyright infringement or not?

Arguments Given by the Plaintiffs

The plaintiffs contended that the defendant, Rameshwari Photocopy Service, infringed their copyright under section 51 of the Copyright Act, 1957, upon the direction of the University of Delhi. This was done via unauthorised use of the publisher’s copyrighted material.

The plaintiffs stated that the University of Delhi provided books to the Rameshwari Photocopy Service for creating the aforementioned unauthorised course packs.

The plaintiffs also pointed out the lack of originality in the course packs and stated that they were direct copies of their work, lacking any creative expression from the defendant.

Building upon their argument, the plaintiffs then listed the various rates changed for the copy of their work by the Rameshwari Photocopy Service. This was to show the undue commercial gain on the defendant’s part and violation of section 14 of the Copyright Act.

Lastly, the plaintiffs contested the grounds of section 52(1) of the Copyright Act, which served as an exception of copyright infringement in the Act.

They claimed that the production of the course packs didn’t happen for the stated purpose of course instructions but was an exchange between the teachers and their students that fell outside the ambit of the written law.

Defendant’s Arguments

The defendants presented a series of compelling arguments in their defence. First and foremost, they asserted that their actions were firmly grounded in the principle of fair use, aligning with the provisions of sections 52(1)(a) and section 52(1)(h) of the Copyright Act, 1957. Their intent was not to pursue commercial gains but rather to facilitate education by providing copies at nominal rates.

Defendant number 1’s pricing strategy played a pivotal role in their argument. With a charge of just 40 paise per page, it was demonstrated that their operations were driven by a genuine intention to aid students rather than exploit copyright for financial benefits.

Moreover, a license granted to defendant number 1 for a small shop within the Delhi School of Economics (DSE) campus further bolstered their case. This license enabled them to offer photocopy services specifically to students and faculty members, suggesting that their activities were sanctioned within the educational environment.

Defendant number 2, the university’s role was equally instrumental in the defence. The university’s practice of recommending reading materials containing excerpts from various expensive books highlighted a common dilemma faced by students.

Many might hesitate to purchase entire books for a single chapter, resulting in financial strain. The photocopies offered by defendant number 1 served as a solution to this predicament.

The university’s library, though supportive, grappled with the challenge of limited copies of recommended titles. This scarcity prompted the allowance of photocopying for students’ reference, offering a practical workaround to the shortage of original copies.

Furthermore, the defendants stressed the importance of safeguarding the limited number of original books within the library. Faculty members compiled master copies for photocopying, a practice that not only conserved the integrity of the originals but also facilitated easier access for students.

The defendants also highlighted the minimal portion of the copyrighted material selected for use in course materials. This selection, they argued, was a tiny fraction compared to the entirety of the books, reinforcing the notion that their actions were measured and not excessive.

Lastly, the defendants broadened the interpretation of the term “course of instruction.” They contended that this phrase encompassed a comprehensive range of instructional processes, extending from an earlier point for teachers to a later point for students. If copying was integral to the instruction process, it was argued to fall under this expansive scope, thereby being protected under the fair use principle.


After hearing the arguments presented by both sides and considering various sources of copyright law, the High Court of Delhi gave its final verdict in 2016.

The judgment proves to be a landmark judgment that not only sets the importance of the fair use principle but also dramatically impacts the Jurisprudence aspect of copyright law.

As per the court, the copyright is not a Natural Right that the publishers possess, but it only acts as a statutory right after the release of the Copyright Act, 1957.

The court stated as per section 14 of the Copyright Act, the owner of the copyright does have the exclusive right to issue copies of his work to the general public, but in this case, the copies used via the library were already in the circulation of the public, as they were already sold once.

Further, section 51 and section 52 of the Copyright Act are not just limited to an individual or a classroom; the relationship between a student and a teacher has a purview beyond the classroom.

Therefore, the recommendations given by the teachers will fall under section 52 of the Copyright Act. Thus making them not limited by section 14 of the Copyright Act.

The students can’t be expected to purchase every book and be labelled as potential customers of the publishers. Rameshwari Photocopy Service doesn’t serve as a competitor to the publishers, and the students were merely taking advantage of the technology available to them for their convenience.

If they didn’t have access to photocopying services, they’d sit for long hours in the library to make notes. The photocopying of the course packs among them for public or private use will fall under fair dealing.

Therefore, the High Court held that the fair use principle is one exception to copyright infringement. The publisher’s material was prepared into a course pack but with the primary purpose of education.

Thus, the rights of the copyright holders weren’t violated, and the series of acts didn’t amount to copyright infringement.


The court’s ruling in the well-known case of Chancellor, Masters & Scholars of the University of Oxford vs Rameshwari Photocopy Services highlighted a complex view of copyright.

It highlighted fair dealing and the dynamic character of education by ruling that educational institutions did not violate copyright when they created course packs through photocopying.

The ruling established a standard for subsequent copyright law issues by demonstrating the fine line that must be drawn between copyright protection and supporting contemporary learning techniques.

Gayatri Singh
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