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The Truth About Textbook Piracy

The Facts about Textbook Piracy and Illegal Downloads

Every semester, college students spend a sizable chunk of change on textbooks. For some, the per-semester costs for books can run upwards of $800-$1200. Students are always looking for creative ways to cut costs on textbooks whether that means sharing with a roommate, borrowing from a friend, reserving the book at a public library, or purchasing from online retailers instead of the college bookstore. When students are faced with paying an average of $100 per textbook, some decide it's just not worth it, especially when some professors have a reputation for not using the textbooks in class.

Unfortunately, other students feel the pressure to infringe on copyrights by making illegal copies or using or sharing unauthorized downloads. Ignorance isn't bliss on this one. Get the facts about textbook piracy and learn about how publishers are cracking down on this troubling trend.

What is textbook piracy?
What are the consequences for those who illegally download textbooks?
Are there legal alternatives to textbook piracy?

What is textbook piracy?

Textbook piracy is illegally downloading textbooks from a file-share website. Similar to websites that facilitate downloading movies or music, these sites provide links to download the contents of the textbook. Often, a version of textbooks has been scanned and uploaded to a computer. Sometimes downloads are unauthorized copies of purchased ebooks. The rise of textbook piracy can be attributed to many factors, but many point to the high cost of textbooks as a major factor.

What are the consequences for those who illegally download textbooks?

There are several problems with illegally downloading textbooks. First of all, it is copyright infringement. Secondly, the publishing company loses money for every downloaded, but not purchased, textbook. Once publishers discover illegal material on websites, they can request that their material be removed. However, these websites are protected by federal law from copyright lawsuits if they remove the material after they receive the request. Some sites strive to be open sharing sites, but people take advantage of the openness.

Many colleges and universities have disciplinary policies in place that explain the consequences for students who engage in plagiarism or are involved in other copyright infringement issues. These cases are taken seriously. The federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act grants the copyright owner the right to take action in court to seek civil liability or criminal prosecution. Media organizations like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have become very aggressive in pursuing revenues lost to illegal downloading. Many believe that with the increasing popularity of e-readers, this trend will extend to book publishers as well.

Are there legal alternatives to textbook piracy?
There are many websites that sell used textbooks at good prices. In addition, websites are getting creative in what their sites include.

  • At Café Scribe, students can purchase ebooks and then join a virtual study group with students who are using the same textbook.
  • Textbooks and ebooks are available at Cengage Brain, which also provides students the opportunity to purchase echapters, which is a great feature that allows students to purchase individual chapters from electronic textbooks. If you register with their website, you can view the first chapter of many electronic textbooks for free.
  • With Course Smart, students can create an account and get a 180-day subscription that grants access to a textbook. On average their prices are $60 less than the listed price of a textbook.
  • Another option is to rent a textbook at site such as Chegg, which offers 60-day, quarter, and semester long rentals. The price of renting a textbook is about half of the listed price of the textbook.

In addition, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin helped create the College Textbook Affordability Act, a part of the Higher Education Act Reauthorization, which was signed into law in August 2008. This act is supposed to help to keep costs of textbooks at a lower rate. As a result of this act, publishers will be required to give professors a written price list for textbooks, information on the different editions, and information about cheaper versions. The hope with this act is to give professors better information about the textbooks they choose for their classes and encourage them to investigate cheaper options for required texts.

Article Resources:

The Boston Globe
College Board
Dick Durbin, United States Senator
Howard University School of Law
Open Education