I'm about to enter the Spring 2009 semester, a term that will probably be one of the most difficult I have ever faced. (For me, at least, the fall semester is always good and the spring is invariably wretched.) What has made it worse is the fact that I am required to shell out $60 for a course packet for one of my courses. Chad has recently written about the difficulties surrounding high-priced textbooks, but this is a little different. This is not a textbook, but a specially-selected collection of papers and articles assembled by the professors that could very easily be made available on the web. Given that this is an ecology course, I would at least think that they would be concerned about saving paper!
In math courses and similar classes there is generally no getting around buying the assigned textbook. There are assigned problems and if you don't have the book you're just wasting your time. For many of my courses, however, the "required" textbook is entirely superfluous. The relevant material is covered in lecture and so as long as I show up and take notes there is no need for the heavy volumes. Why should I spend hundreds of dollars on books that I don't need, will not use after the class ends, and cannot sell back for anything near what I paid for them? (The only case I can think of where a textbook was useful after the course was over was the 2nd edition of Human Osteology.)
The same goes for course packets. Why should I spend my hard-earned money to buy photocopies of papers I could get for free through the university library? The packet is convenient, yes, but wouldn't it be even better if professors could simply upload pdfs to the web and not have to create and publish a special packet every year? I do not see the logic in why physical course packets should continue to be produced. They are expensive and waste paper, and the same information could be made without the cost and the waste by using the web. Since Rutgers already has a system in place to share resources on the internet I see no reason why professors should not be making fuller use of it.
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If the papers are copyrighted, the professor could provide a list of links to the ones that are accessible via databases for which the university pays a site license, but if the professor followed your suggestion of uploading pdfs to the web, the university could be sued for copyright infringement. See the following article at The Chronicle of Higher Education: "Publishers Sue Georgia State U. for Copyright Infringement"
Elf; Thanks for the link. It does raise some bothersome questions, though.
What is fundamentally different between distributing papers/readings through a web-based portal like Sakai and putting them into a hard copy? How is it differently than just photocopying papers and handing them out to students? If the papers are already available through university subscriptions or the professors authored the papers why is the distribution of those materials to students at that university copyright infringement? It does not make sense to me.
coursepacks are evil. I've always wondered if the prof gets commission or something. It seems like its HARDER for them to do that, especialy with sites like sakai, due to copyright issues.
What is fundamentally different between distributing papers/readings through a web-based portal like Sakai and putting them into a hard copy?
The difference is that the price of the course packet includes licensing fees for the papers included (as well as labor and materials costs for assembling the packets, which you would otherwise pay yourself, in time if not in money).
The issue raised in the GSU suit is what constitutes "fair use". The publishers are claiming that GSU's course packet distribution system generates too many copies of the work, which the university should be paying for. From what I know of law (and IANAL) there should be more to the complaint than what is described in Elf's link, because education is specifically considered one of the factors in determining fair use. However, fair use is a only a defense against copyright infringement claims; you have to assert it if they sue you for copyright infringement. If the papers in question are published in journals for which the library has paid access, it's probably still fair use, depending on how many copies were made. If they were offering large portions of a published book (i.e., more than one chapter/article from the same book), it's probably infringing. A large state university like GSU or Rutgers will get into the gray areas of the law much faster than a small college.
I suspect the publishers in this case are pushing for a precedent, knowing that the trend in copyright law has been toward increasing restriction.
When I was an undergrad there was an unfortunately obese man that went around campus selling himself as the "course packet maker." He definitely made money from it, as he wasn't an employee of the university and this is all he did (He did it at all of the local universities). I think the packet cost around $45, and was full of articles and books we had full access to at our library.
I got my revenge, though. He was so conniving as to let us take home the packet without paying and would come back each day to collect from those who hadn't paid yet, so as to assure his making money (While simultaneously attempting to come off as a saint). So, I took the packet to the library and copied it, then gave it back the next day, telling him that I would just look off of a friend.. He was so obviously angry, and I definitely wasn't hiding my smile.
I generally found that the TAs, at least, were very honest about whether you needed to buy the textbook or could, say, borrow a copy occasionally from the library. That was at a very different institution, though.
Also, is there any way you could "share" a packet with a friend just to make a copy of it for yourself? $30 is more than $0, but it's less than $60.
There are a few issues here.
Firstly, authorship of papers is irrelevant. Copyright for a paper rests with the publisher, not the author. As a condition of publication you have to sign over copyright to the publisher.
Secondly I don't think "fair use" provisions apply to commercial transactions. The Uni is selling the papers, and so would need specific permission from the copyright holder (otherwise they are breaching copyright). This may include limits as to the mode of circulation of the papers.
Thirdly, Unis have be ensure that any materials required for courses are available to all students. Putting the papers on the internet presupposes that all students have access to personal computers and internet access. While this may be a reasonable assumption today, it was not only a few years ago. Further, any student that did not have full access to the internet outside of student computer-access hours could legitimately claim discrimination
All students have access to the computer lab. I used to type and print my papers at the University library.
Um, if they have full access during school hours, how can they claim discrimination?
As some of the above commenters have already pointed out, for course packets, your beef really is with the various publishers, not the university.
When I was an undergrad some 15-odd years ago, instead of formal course packets, most professors would just hand out photocopies of relevant articles a few weeks before they needed to be read for class at no charge (obviously, each class also had a few books we were expected to buy). I think the few actual course packets were pretty cheap, as they were basically just made at kinko's by someone at the campus bookstore. Then, in my junior year, we were told that publishers were planning to sue schools for copyright infringement for distributing photocopies as hand-outs. This meant (a) adding a huge mark up to the cost of course packets to pay the licensing fees, or (b) leaving copies of the articles at some location so that each student could photocopy their own version.
All the professors I knew totally hated this new system,as it hobbled their ability to add or remove material as the course went along, but it sounds like it has become the new default.
Unfortunately, I don't think online material is going to help that much, at least in the near future. An author can indeed distribute a pre-published version of the paper with no problem, and in some fields it might be possible to scrounge free-access archives like www.arxiv.org for articles. However, this isn't the case for lots of journals, and if there is an article the prof thinks is really important for the course, but the school doesn't have an on-line subscription already, it isn't sensible to add the journal for one article. Not to mention all the stuff in old journals that are still important but are not on-line.
Having facilities is not the same thing as accessing facilities.
If the student has many contact hours, lives a distance from the campus, and has a part-time job or other off-campus obligations, his or her access time is significantly limited. If the collage has limited numbers of computers then access is limited even more.
If the Uni charges students for a resource it is obligated to ensure that all students have equal access to that resource.
If the papers are already available through university subscriptions or the professors authored the papers why is the distribution of those materials to students at that university copyright infringement? It does not make sense to me.
When I was doing research, I think that actually photocopying papers from journals was an infringement, but allowed provided that the copy was for private research and was destroyed once the research was completed. (Yes, a personal library of photocopies from previous research was an infringement.)
Photocopying for mass circulation is not copying for private research and so would be an infringement.
As I mentioned previously, authors of journal papers do not own the copyright to those papers, the journal does.
Chris Nedin said
Not necessarily Chris. I am looking at copy of one of my 2006 papers which has the paper copyrighted to "the authors", while the compilation is copyrighted to the journal (New Phytologist).
Conversely, for a peer-reviewed paper / book chapter I wrote for Advances in Botanical Research the contract stipulated that Elselvier hold copyright.
Not necessarily Chris. I am looking at copy of one of my 2006 papers which has the paper copyrighted to "the authors", while the compilation is copyrighted to the journal (New Phytologist)
Interesting. All the papers I have are copyrighted to the journal. Maybe phytology journals are more generous than geology journals :-)
I spent over one-thousand dollars on my materials for this semester. Well, actually, my state government did. But still. Damn. Pricey as fuck.