Case Study 10

You are serving as a principal of a famous college in Delhi. A photocopy shop is there on the campus of your college. The shop is quite famous among the students as it provides a readymade set of photocopied books for them. The books otherwise are very expensive and also not easily available as their copyrights are with foreign publishing houses.

A situation has come up where one foreign-based publishing house has approached you and is requesting orders to shut down the photocopy shop, as it is violating their intellectual property rights.

The publication house has also threatened to file a court case if no action is taken on its request. This may bring a lot of bad publicity for a reputed college. However, the college has a considerable proportion of students who cannot afford to buy the original books, which are important for their studies and good marks. The protest has already started by the students against the closure of the photocopy shop. In this context:

A) What are the ethical issues involved in this case?

B) Explain what can be done in this regard.  

A) The case deals with the challenge of balancing the right to education and safeguarding the intellectual property rights of book publishers. Following are some other ethical issues involved in the case:

  1. The natural right of students to easy access to expensive educational material, especially for poor students.
  2. The legal right of publishers over their intellectual products.
  3. Values and aptitude of the principal of the college to resolve the issue and not allow a bad name to come to the institution.
  4. Respect for the law and trust in the college administration and judiciary is required.
  5. Right, and responsibilities of photocopy shops must be balanced. The right to occupation must be balanced with the duty to follow the law of the land.
  6. Duty of government and law to satisfy and protect the interest of two different groups of citizens.
  7. The obligation of the state to enforce international conventions of copyright.  

B) The book is a product of dedication and hard work.  There is also a long-term impact on research and innovation if intellectual property rights are not protected. On the other hand, educational institutions are the common good. Education helps the poor and marginalised to overcome their vulnerabilities. However, access to education itself is a challenge, especially in developing countries. Hence the wisdom would lie in balancing the two conflicting rights of different groups of citizens:

  1. Publishing houses in the interest of society must ease their claim to older editions or come up with cheaper student editions.
  2. Universities must utilize funds earmarked for libraries for that purpose.
  3. The students’ demands can be met reasonably by permitting only the excerpts from the book as per the prescribed syllabus by the university.
  4. ICT tools can be used to make an e-library to allow multiple accesses to copyrighted material.

Without constricting the right of publishers, we should try to achieve the vision of Rabindra Nath Tagore to make our society one where the mind is without fear and the head is held high and “where knowledge is free”.

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