Among the many notices stuck on the brick wall of the Rameshwari Photocopy Service shop on the Delhi School of Economics (DSE) premises on Delhi University’s North Campus, one stands out. On a basic white sheet of paper, an instruction in blue felt pen says, “Kripya khaali khade hokar gappbazi na karen, apna samay vyarth na karen. Dhanyawad (Please don’t stand around gossiping, whiling away time. Thank you).” At 11 on a Tuesday morning during exam season, with next to no customers in sight, the notice seems almost redundant. But Dharampal Singh, the owner of the shop, says it’s necessary, for small talk never stops when students are buzzing around the place.
“Right now, there is not much business because exams are about to end, but on a regular day, there is so much crowd and noise that it becomes difficult to manage sometimes. We provide everything from course packs to previous years’ question papers, and we have the licence to borrow up to 15 books per day from the Ratan Tata Library at DSE, so several students come to us for that too,” he says.
Established in 1998, the Rameshwari Photocopy Service shop was served a notice for copyright infringement in 2012 by a triad of renowned publishers, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis Group.
On December 9, the Delhi High Court held that photocopying of copyrighted material for education use was allowed under the Indian Copyright law, and there could be no restriction on how much of the book is copied, as long as the demands of the course being taught justified the copying.
In the words of Dharampal, their work is meant “for the benefit of the student community”. “Sure, there is the business aspect of it, but what we and all others are doing is necessary for students to be able to study in this university. My father Prem Singh was the first to install a public copier in DU at Patel Chest (a hub of photocopy shops), and I’ve carried on the work,” says Dharampal, who has named the shop after his mother.
Dharampal has four employees now —one for each machine in the shop. Prem Singh, the de facto boss of the shop in the absence of Dharampal, has been working here since it was established. This Tuesday, he is the first to open the shop at 10 am. “There is a conference scheduled today and I came in time for that. During conferences, people need to get several things photocopied, and we’re the only ones in DSE,” says Prem.
By noon, students start trickling in. Sahil Gupta, a former student of DSE who completed his MA in Economics in 2015, says he is looking to crack the Indian Economic Services (IES) exam. “I’m working at a company in Gurgaon. I came here to take some reading material for the IES exam, and also to meet Prem bhaiya. Inki wajah se hi to hum pass hue hain (We cleared our exams because of him),” smiles Gupta.
He places a call to his coaching institute “sir” to ask what all he should get. Then, he tells Prem he needs “Macro I, Macro II and Intro to Macro” material. “This is all BA reading material, because that is what is asked in the IES exams, even though the eligibility criterion is MA. Who will buy entire books when we can get course packs which include only those topics which we need, and it’s so affordable?” he says. Gupta enjoys the afternoon sun sitting on a chair outside the shop while waiting for his order.
As he is leaving, a young girl enters. “I need the course pack for second semester, Economics,” she tells Prem. He asks her to come after January 5-6. “January 1 ke baad meeting hogi, usme syllabus banega, phir readings decide hongi. Uske baad banayenge hum course pack (There will be a meeting after January 1, the syllabus will be set then and the reading material decided. We will make the course pack after that).”
On one side of the shop, Imran is ripping apart the pages of a well-thumbed and yellowing copy of The Headman and I, authored by Jean-Paul Dumont. Imran juggles between managing his father’s shop and working at Rameshwari. “We don’t do this usually, but a professor in the Sociology department asked me to scan these books for her. They are her own books, but she is going abroad and it’s impossible for her to take them all. So she is storing them digitally,” he says.
Looking up, Imran adds, “I’m still trying to understand, if photocopying is a copyright violation, is scanning too? Because everyone does that.” Just then, a student enters with the book Urban Navigations. He asks Imran for a pen and paper, and writes down ‘Intro and Pages 1 to 78’. He puts the piece of paper inside the book, and hands it over saying, “Photocopy this, I will be back in a while.”
Published by Routledge India, the book costs Rs 895. “This book has 360-odd pages, and this boy only needs 78 of those. Do you think he will buy such an expensive book for just those 78 pages? It’s so much more convenient for them to issue the book from the library and have it photocopied. We forget students’ convenience in our debates (on copyright),” says Prem, who has come back to the shop around 1 pm, after a tea break.
Half an hour later, as the shop employees are debating whether they should take a break for lunch, several groups of students and teachers come in. Prastha Rajoria, a former student of DSE and now a teacher of Environmental Studies at Kalindi College, wants photocopies of specific part of a book. “There are around 40 students in my class and there is only one copy available in our library. Everybody needs to have read it for what I’m teaching,” she says.
As the clock strikes 2 pm, everyone heads out for lunch to the canteen next door. By 2.30 pm, they are back but there are few customers and employees get busy with pending work. Around 3.15 pm, two students enter asking for the previous year’s question paper for Economics. “Do you want just DSE (Delhi School of Economics)? We also have papers for JNU, ISI (Indian Statistical Institute), South Asian University and Hyderabad (HCU). It will cost Rs 500,” says Prem. The girls check their wallets, they have only Rs 400, so they decide to get only DSE and ISI papers.
Solved question papers such as these are much in demand, lending some comic relief to an otherwise monotonous job. At 3.30 pm, a student asks Imran for solved DSE question papers for the last 10 years. “We have question papers from 2009-16,” replies Imran. “Oh, bas five years ke hain (you have papers for only five years). Okay, give me those,” he says.
As the student leaves, a clearly amused Prem says, “How did he calculate 2009-16 as five years? Pakka commerce ka student hoga. Agar Economics hai tab to iska bhavishya chintajanak hai (He is definitely a commerce student. If he is in the Economics stream, his future is worrisome).” The others at the shop burst out laughing.
The shop usually closes at 7 pm but on exam days, they shut by 5 pm because there are few customers. It’s now 4 pm, and the employees start winding up. Imran is photocopying the last of his books for the day while watching Doraemon on a laptop.
By 4.30 pm, cleaning has begun. Clothes and detergent are brought out to wipe the machines, brooms and wipes are used to sweep the floor, and the key to the shop is handed over to Dharampal’s relative, who works in the Economics Department, as he is the first to come early in the morning.
Dharampal, who has been out most of this time, arrives to collect his backpack and red jacket. As he leaves, he comments, “I wonder if people realise how we are circulating their work among people who may not otherwise have access to such costly books. We’re doing them a service.”