The Express Tribune costs Rs20 a day to subscribe to in Karachi. I would say it is worth it. The writer of this paper’s editorials is one of the most learned men in journalism anywhere in the world, and in my opinion, one of the wisest.
It is unthinkable for a newspaper to be priced thus in India, where most papers cost Rs2 or Rs3. Readers will pay no more than that. Most newspapers offer annual subscriptions for Rs299 or Rs199 or less. This means that the cost of subscription is less than a rupee per copy. This is not because newsprint is cheaper in India. It’s the same price worldwide and it costs the same to print The Express Tribune as it does The Times of India. However, Indians will not pay more and would rather pay nothing at all for information and entertainment.
We must keep this in mind when addressing the matter of the Delhi University (DU). Its students have called the Oxford University Press (OUP) and the Cambridge University Press (CUP) “criminals”. These two publishers have filed a lawsuit seeking a ban on photocopying of their books. The publishers claim that a shop at the university hands out “course materials”, essentially photocopies of books that are recommended reading.
The students agree they do this, but refuse to buy the OUP and CUP books. They say they won’t, unless the books are discounted for them by these publishers. According to a released statement, which has not yet been disowned, the DU’s students and faculty want that a “strict warning be given to these criminal presses that they cannot get away with this sort of bullying and stifling of democratic student culture”.
I accept that we have fallen as a nation but when did copyright theft by the middle class become democratic culture? I am puzzled also by the demand that the publishers should subsidise the books. Let us compare the net price at which the book is sold in India with the net price (in brackets) at which the book is sold abroad.
Published by the Cambridge University Press:
Socio-religious reform movements in India, by Kenneth Jones Rs295 (Rs3,150)
A social history of the Deccan, by Richard Eaton Rs626 (Rs5,175)
The Marathas, by Stewart Gordon Rs150 (Rs6,015)
The Sikhs of the Punjab, by JS Grewal Rs250 (Rs5,484)
Published by the Oxford University Press:
Illustrating India, by Jennifer Howes Rs2,655 (Rs11,883)
Jawaharlal Nehru, by S Gopal Rs2,025 (Rs12,435)
Interpreting Mughal painting, by Som Prakash Verma Rs535 (Rs2,760)
Mughals and Franks, by Sanjay Subrahmanyam Rs338 (Rs1,545)
I have listed these books because I bought them in the last few days. But it is true for most publishers. The OUP and the CUP have done outstanding service to India. They have done this first, by commissioning and publishing the finest studies of India and her culture. Histories unrivalled for quality, including those written in Indian languages. Secondly, they have subsidised these works, selling them for less than they are worth and often, many times, less than others currently pay for them. It is fine not to acknowledge their service (in my opinion, Indians are particularly ungrateful), but it is indecent to call them “criminals”.
And then this threat is made: “We will actively ensure that no books of these presses are used in the campus and will urge all teachers not to recommend any books or readings published by them. Instead, we would work on other options of open sources and free dissemination of knowledge and urge other faculty and students to do the same.”
Why not go ahead? It addresses both the problem of poor students and the complaint of copyright theft. The fact is that it is an empty threat. There is no replacement. This business of ripping off someone’s life’s work is also not free of cost to society. I learnt to my dismay that of the OUP’s superb Themes in Indian history series, only three of 15 volumes are in print. When the colleges for which these texts were written for refuse to purchase them, not many amateur buyers can fill the gap.
It is not expected that students will show maturity here. The history of India’s violent student actions show that they usually can be trusted to do the wrong thing. However, the faculty should distance itself from this obscene attack. To malign these publishers for defending themselves against theft is unfair and unjust. Threatening to discard them is to kill the goose that’s laying, for all of us, golden eggs.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2012.
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