Textbook piracy rises as textbook prices increase

Selah Maya Zighelboim

Each semester, chemistry senior James Sutton tries to find online PDFs of his textbooks, regardless of whether he purchases them in print.

Sutton is among the many students who are increasingly choosing to pirate textbooks — usually in the form of free PDF downloads. According to a 2014 study from the Book Industry Study Group, 25 percent of students reported they or someone they knew had pirated a textbook, an increase of 8 percent from the previous year.

Sutton said student expenses such as textbook prices cause him to look for his books online. According to a 2013 report by the United States Government Accountability Office, textbook prices increased by 82 percent between 2002 and 2012, an increase almost three times the rate of overall consumer prices.
“It’s expensive to be a student,” Sutton said. “I have no income, and tuition and rent are expensive.

Michael Kiely, University Co-op director of course materials, said he thinks the University Co-op, as well as publishers and authors, have been adversely affected by textbook piracy. He said piracy is especially common when expensive textbooks, especially those priced at $100 or more, are assigned to large classes.

“There are a few titles here on campus where [piracy] is very prevalent,” Kiely said. “[Students] don’t hide it at all, and they don’t see anything wrong with it, and when you mention, ‘Hey, that’s really not right, that’s illegal,’ they don’t care.”

The Office of the Dean of Students handles textbook piracy cases the same way it handles cases of academic dishonesty, according to Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly. The office has previously created campaigns to inform students that textbook piracy goes against University policy and is illegal.

“If you look at our campaign, you will see that it is filled with facts, so that students could address those questions and manage those ethical dilemmas,” Reagins-Lilly said. “We’re trying to avoid a problem.”

Despite the increase in textbook piracy, it is still not as common as piracy of content such as music and movies, said Cam Beasley, Information Security Office chief information security officer.

Sutton said he believes that a future similar to that of the music industry is awaiting the textbook industry. He pays for Spotify Premium, an online music library, and said he wishes that a similar service was available for textbooks.

“I don’t think publishers have a high moral ground to stand on because it’s 2015,” Sutton said. “For a textbook that was published 15 years ago, and is only barely updated each year, it shouldn’t cost me any more than $50 for an old, used edition, or at the very least, a cheap electronic copy. As long as the publishing industry continues to resist change, it will continue to be surpassed by the Internet.”

Despite the savings textbook piracy offers, not all students support the practice.

“I think it’s wrong because it’s someone’s information — someone’s thoughts — that were basically stolen, and they’re not receiving full credit for it,” psychology freshman Madeline Berryman said.