As courts decided whether “coursepacks” — made after photocopying specific chapters from books — were legal, students across colleges were scrambling to get reading material in place before exams started.
Delhi University students, especially those from humanities, rarely buy course books, but the University Grants Commission’s readings list for many subjects has remained more or less the same over the last 10 years, making many wonder why the university doesn’t just buy licences to reproduce certain in-demand books to make things easier for students.
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“Each year, teachers ask us to hunt for a few books in the library and photocopy certain chapters from them. The syllabus changed in 2011, but in certain subjects, the coursepacks have remained the same for the last 10 years. I’m sure a system, wherein the university can print books that have the mandatory readings in it, can be devised. It’s too cumbersome otherwise,” said Aanchal Srivastava, a History student who wrote her fifth semester exams last week.
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Universities across the world have their own printing presses, many of which publish and reprint books. The Oxford University Press and the Harvard University Press, in fact, are among the most well-regarded presses for academic publishing in the world.
The Delhi University Press, on the other hand, does not publish books, neither does it reprint them.
“We only print question papers, answer sheets, etc. No books are printed here. As far as I know, there are no plans to acquire licences from publishers to reprint their work,” said D S Rawat, who heads the DU Press.
Other university officials also confirmed that there was no plan to go into printing books as of now.
“When we talk of Delhi University taking licence from the Indian Reprographic Rights Organisation (IRRO) and publishing books at a low cost, we’re only looking at it from an academic point of view. The practical aspect is that once somebody purchases a book, it becomes their property. There was a time when photostat machines were in shops with registration numbers. Today, phone cameras can snap a 300-word book in minutes. One can transfer those images to their email IDs and then get them printed,” said an official who did not wish to be named.
“Photocopy shops may be facing an issue because they’re photocopying, binding and selling material as if they are books. But I don’t think it can be stopped. If international publishers tie up with local publishers in developing countries and sell books at a lower cost, this issue can be resolved when the entire book is required,” he added.
For science students, e-publishing has made things a little easier.
“Many of the books that we want students to read are now available online for free or from the university network. Also, in science disciplines, it is usually entire books that are required to be read and not just a few chapters,” Rawat, who also teaches chemistry, said.
Institutions such as IIT-Delhi have put all its textbooks online. These can be accessed using the internal local area network. In addition to this, universities pay for subscriptions from renowned e-journals.
Some teachers, however, said there is no need for the university to seek a licence at all.
“IRRO comes in only if there is no basic right to photocopy. Here, the law has specifically carved out an exception for education, under which we do not have to pay fees to anyone for copying for the purposes of instruction. Further, IRRO has been found to raise its rates arbitrarily, against which there are several protests,” said DU Sociology professor Nandini Sundar.