Obtaining a proper education can give people a leg up in life, but this privilege does come at a price.
Studying can be a costly endeavor, requiring expensive textbooks that may only be in use for a single semester. To reduce costs, some students choose to share books or buy cheaper second-hand versions. Textbook piracy is also widespread and in many cases considered socially acceptable among students.
Last year, a Danish student survey found that nearly half of all students who use digital textbooks obtain copies through illegal means. Most students are well aware that selling and pirating books is against the law, but 68% still found it acceptable to share pirated books with friends or other students.
Rights Alliance, a Danish anti-piracy group that represents rightsholders in several sectors, has had this issue on its radar for a few years now. Thus far, it has resulted in several criminal convictions of what, at first glance, seem rather small offenders.
This month another case went before the court after a 25-year-old man was found guilty of selling PDFs of pirated textbooks to 12 people. The offender avoided a prison sentence, in part due to the lengthy proceeding, but was ordered to pay a fine of 5,000 Danish kroner (~$670) in compensation, while 2,450 kroner (~$360) were confiscated.
The court concluded that the man sold 56 pirated copies in total, which he stored on a Microsoft OneDrive server. This wasn’t a typical hardcore criminal operation, however, as the seller himself wasn’t the source. He received the pirate books for his “social work” study from other students and decided to sell them to others online.
While this type of activity is clearly illegal, the sentence also has an ironic twist. A quick calculation shows that the fine and confiscated money amount to less than $20 per pirated textbook, meaning that buying them legally would probably have been more expensive.
Facing the Consequences
Commenting on the recent verdict, Rights Alliance director Maria Fredenslund says the case highlights that relatively small acts of piracy can have real criminal consequences.
“Thanks to an effective effort by the police, it was possible to stop the systematic sale before the consequences became too great. This case shows that systematic illegal sales are not reserved for an overwhelming profit. Just a few completed sales of illegal textbooks can have criminal consequences,” Fredenslund notes.
According to the anti-piracy group, most of the textbooks in the case originated from Nota, a Danish Library for people with print disabilities. Responding to this finding, Nota’s acting director Michael Karvø stresses that it will continue to tighten its security to prevent piracy.
“Nota takes the illegal sharing of Nota’s materials very seriously and therefore has a continuous focus on the implementation of new security measures to prevent illegalities,” Karvø says.
The educational book publishers association is pleased with the conviction. However, Secretary General Pia Vigh notes that educational institutions can and should do more to address the piracy problem.
“When so many of the students share digital study books knowing that it is illegal, it shows a great need for the educational institutions to take more responsibility,” Vigh comments.
The association calls for a cultural change in the educational setting, where piracy should not be without consequences. Instead, it should be actively condemned, also by teachers.
Whether this conviction or the others reported previously will have a serious impact remains doubtful. As the price of textbooks remain high, some students are still willing to take a calculated risk.