Taking Notes: Eye on Education – Textbook Piracy

This column focuses on a wide range of issues affecting post-secondary students. Students are encouraged to submit suggestions and educational topics they are concerned about, or personal experiences with courses or university situations they feel other students should know about. If suggest a topic or a course alert for taking notes, contact djabbour@ausu.org


Gr The high cost of university textbooks is leading many students to illegally download pirated copies from the Internet. Some 17,000 copyrighted books are apparently available on the Internet for sharing via peer to peer (P2P) networks that are more commonly used to share music files. Although most of these are novels, science fiction and fantasy books, a significant number are academic texts, particularly in areas of mathematics, engineering and computer science.

In a Canadian Publishers Council telephone survey of 1300 undergrads across Canada, 30 percent said they had used electronic books, with one-fifth admitting to sharing them via P2P networks. Some research has linked reduced textbook sales of between 10 to 30 percent with the appearance of these digitized texts on the Internet.

The Canadian Federation of Students argues that publishers are simply shifting blame onto students rather than addressing the problem of rising textbook costs. One California public interest group released a report earlier this year which concluded that publishers are artificially inflating the cost of textbooks through add-ons and the introduction of expensive new editions that are barely different from the original (more on this next week)(CALPIRG, 2004).

At AU we have the advantage of having our textbooks included in the total tuition fees, so we don’t feel the direct impact of increased textbook costs. However, as these costs increase, the university will eventually need to pass them on to students.

“¢ Cash-strapped students turn to textbook piracy: Rattled publishers push for tougher copyright laws to protect profits. Isabel Teotonio, Ottawa Citizen. In the Edmonton Journal, September 18, 2004.
“¢ CALPIRG, 2004. California Public Interest Research Group. http://www.pirg.org/calpirg/.