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What advice would you give an instructor who noticed a student with a very substantial amount of a photocopied textbook?

A hypothetical instructor inquired about a student who was thought to have copied a substantial  part of a textbook and whether or not the university would be liable and so he/she should challenge the student. Some would believe that the institution must show due diligence by advising the student that he/she should not have made the copy and should not make any further copies in the future, explaining the copyright law and the need to request permission. The student should further be advised to purchase textbooks in the future and not copy them.

In my opinion (caution: I am not a lawyer!) there is a presumption of innocence in British common law and due diligence does not require teachers to assume guilt. Perhaps the student dropped his legitimately bought copy in a puddle and photocopied clean pages, which would be "fair". Or, there may be a myriad other legitimate reasons for having a photocopy. It would up to a judge to decide whether the students' reasons were "fair" not the teacher. The student can make copies if they fall under fair dealing, so advising him/her that he/she refrains from making future copies is wrong.  Materlals protected by copyright CAN be copied without permission under certain conditions as part of fair dealing or if the licence allows for it. A cc licence is still copyright protected, but copying is permitted. Students may be able to borrow the book from the library or another student as an alternative to buying the book, so telling him/her to buy the book may not be appropriate.
As you can see this situation becomes very complex and full of legal implications that could lead a teacher into making the wrong decision. My view is to presume that the student has adhered to the law unless you are 100% sure that it is an illegal copy.  If you want to cover yourself and the university perhaps making a general statement to the whole class should do it, but be sure to also advise students of their "fair dealing" rights also.


  • Nazim Rahman July 8, 2011 - 1:33pm

    My librarian once told me that I can legally copy up to 50 pages of a book. This was in US. U.K. allows 5% but you cannot accumulate 5 percents of the book over time to make it 100%. I don't know how much content we can copy legally in Canada and couldn't find anything in plain language on the Internet.

    I wouldn't pay much attention to anyone copying portions of a book for personal use, especially when it is for a course, but I would strongly object to someone selling illegally copied books. I feel that copying books for education is less of a crime than downloading music, video, or entertainment-related reading material. Then again, the law might not see a difference.

    Question for instructors. Does your job description require you to police copyright infringement?

  • sarah beth July 8, 2011 - 3:32pm

    I made it through most of my undergrad classes by photocopying other students' textbooks and coursepacks, and through two recent summer classes by just reading them on Google Books. In the first case, I couldn't afford books AND tuition AND rent AND food, so I prioritized; in the second, I just didn't like the classes or want the texts badly enough to pay for them. It seems like a limiting battle to pick, policing a student's morals over copyright, when so many students are making the choice to buy, borrow, or steal a book within economic constraints that don't make it much of a choice at all. Couldn't the instructor's energy be directed towards the inaccessible education system putting the student in that position in the first place, helping to make future theft less likely?

  • Eric von Stackelberg July 8, 2011 - 7:18pm

    Could be rather complex for instructors to police copyright as "fair use" could be interpreted differently in different countries. After all, not all AU students are studying in Canada. Personally, I like the idea of a movement to more open material so we focus on the material and the question of policing becomes mute.

  • Heather Clitheroe July 8, 2011 - 7:58pm

    Most university libraries keep a copy of required textbooks on reserve, and some schools have specialized loan programs operating in conjunction with the campus bookstore to give access to books for students who can demonstrate financial need. A scenario like you suggest? I'd recommend that the instructor make a referral to the student financial aid office, or the student association, or both. It's more meaningful for the professor to try to help a student in that situation than to reach for broader goals of 'changing the system' that might have limited impact to the 'here and now' situation. And it might also help to open doors to bursary programs and assistance that the student might not have known about.