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University of Oxford v. Rameshwari Photocopy Service

Citation: (2016) 16 DRJ (SN) 678

Court: High Court of Delhi

Single Bench: Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw

Division Bench: Hon’ble Mr. Justice Pradeep Nandralog and Hon’ble Mr. Justice Yogesh Khanna


In 2012, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor and Francis (“Oxford”) filed a suit for copyright infringement against Rameshwari Photocopy Services (“RPS”) and Delhi University (“DU”) for the unauthorized use and reproduction of Oxford’s publications to create and sell “course packs”, which were bundles of study material for students’ reference. The Single Bench of the Delhi High Court granted an interim injunction by which the RPS and DU was restrained from making and selling these course packs and reproducing compilations of them. During the trial, the Society for the Promotion of Equitable Access and Knowledge (SPEAK) and the Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge (ASEAK) were also named as defendants. The Delhi High Court, in September 2016, ruled in RPS and DU’s favor. The Court stated that presence of copyright in literary works did not give authors complete ownership of their creations and that it is rather a right to inspire progress in the arts for public intellectual prosperity. After the Single Bench’s decision, Oxford appealed to the Division Bench.


Did the reproduction of sections in the course packs constitute copyright infringement?


Sections 52(1)(i) of the Copyright Act, 1957.


On the 9th of December, 2016, the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court interpreted Section 52(1)(i) of the Copyright Act, to allow photocopying of copyrighted literary works to create course packs. Accordingly, pursuant to Section 52 (1) (i) of the Copyright Act, any copyrighted material that is reproduced by a teacher or a student in the course of educational instruction does not constitute copyright infringement.

The Division Bench pointed out that since Section 52(1)(i) does not have an express fair use limitation, it can only be applied as the general principle dictates. Thus, it was held that when determining if the use of a copyrighted work was fair under Section 52(1)(i), the only standard to be upheld was the work’s necessity in achieving the purpose of educational instruction regardless of the percentage of the work used in the process. It was also held that students were not potential customers of the books used in the course packs because they would ultimately refer to the same books in the library thereby not having an adverse impact on Oxford's market. The core issue in the case concerning the interpretation of Section 52(1)(i) was addressed with reliance on Section 13(2) of the General Clauses Act of 1897. It was held that ‘photocopying’ (making multiple copies) came under the meaning of the word 'reproduction’. The phrase ‘in the course of instruction’ was also held to include within its scope the creation and distribution of course packs to students, who also constituted the general public. However, it went on to say that this distribution did not amount to publication because the intent to publish did not include making profits off of it.

Thus, the Division Bench dismissed Oxford's appeal. The Court clarified that RPS need not possess a license or permission to photocopy. The factual determination as to whether the copyrighted works in the course packs were truly necessary for specific teaching purposes was handed over to the Single Bench. On March 9th, 2017, Oxford withdrew the suit from the Delhi High Court.


Copyright law plays a crucial role in balancing the interests of creators, curators, and publishers with the interests of those who need access to the educational works. This case and its outcome helped students who could not afford to purchase books to provide equitable dissemination of knowledge to students and the quality of their education. A developing nation like India certainly requires regular contribution and concerted efforts to raise its standard of education to help students strive for greater heights. The more equity in knowledge accessibility, the more prosperous a country’s citizens. In a way, this judgment has managed to balance both sides of the scale - when those who seek knowledge gain it, their thirst for more increases, which means that those who disseminate knowledge will succeed in their pursuit to further disseminate it.

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