Story and photo gallery by NIC NIELSEN
Downloading files illegally is nothing new. In fact, college students have been using the internet to pirate music and films for years. While this trend has been prevalent in entertainment media, it has now moved on to academics.
College students are now turning to the internet to find their textbooks. But rather than purchasing or renting from companies such as Amazon, some are opting to download complete PDFs of their required texts. With a quick Google search of the title or ISBN, students are able to download some textbooks at the risk of legal penalties in order to save hundreds and even thousands of dollars.
For University of Utah freshman Olivia Gonzales, 19, this is a popular way for her friends to save money. The chemistry major said she hasn’t participated in the trend herself, but she doesn’t blame others for wanting to save money with the prices being so high, and some professors are sympathizing as well.
“I’m too scared of getting in legal trouble to try it, but most people I know have done this because, like, they just can’t afford really expensive textbooks on top of the ridiculous school fees,” Gonzales said. “Even my professor once sent us a link at the beginning of the semester to a PDF of the book for our class. The entire textbook.”
While students may consider receiving bootleg copies of the required texts either a miracle or unethical, U senior Kelsey Rathke, 26, has experienced something more common.
“I have had multiple classes where a teacher has a PDF chapter or two from a textbook,” Rathke, a communication major, said. “I really like those classes because, in general, they use more than one textbook, so there is variety throughout the semester, and I don’t have to pay the price for it.”
According to Policy 7-013 of the U’s research policies, copyrighted materials can only be shared to students if it constitutes a fair use, is only accessible by students enrolled in the course during that semester, and has a security measure in place to access it such as a password protection.
While some may argue students simply just don’t ever want to pay money, the cause of this trend may be a result of skyrocketing textbook prices.
In January 2018, CBS News reported that the average cost of textbooks has risen four times faster than the rate of inflation in the last decade and 65 percent of students were choosing to not purchase required texts at some point in college due to lack of affordability.
According to the National Association of College Stores, the average price of a new textbook rose from $58 to $90, an increase of over 50 percent, between the 2011-12 and 2016-17 school years. Many students have expressed that this rise in price is unjustified.
“I think they are outrageous,” Rathke said of textbook prices. “I understand that they take a lot of effort and time to build, but the newest versions of textbooks are unbelievable, and for most of them the changes are minor enough that it feels like robbery.”
Students have not been the only victims of rising prices, however. According to Shane Girton, 48, associate director of the of U’s campus store, it has been selling fewer printed books because of prices set by publishers.
“Traditional print textbook sales have declined overall due to the increase in price set by the publishers, which has forced cost-conscious students to make the choice of shopping online to find the best possible deal, utilizing e-books when possible, as they are normally up to 60 percent cheaper than print textbooks, utilizing the Campus Store rental program for their textbooks, which can save them up to 50 percent, or forgoing using a textbook at all,” Girton said in an email interview.
Girton also stated that the campus store searches for “a variety of options in providing textbook content to students so that the price can be reduced where possible.” Girton said he is aware of the textbook pirating trend, but not to what extent.
“There is a risk involved in using pirated material that the student has to accept,” Girton said.
Although more expensive, some students such as freshman Thomas Young, 18, still prefer physical textbooks and purchasing from the university bookstore.
“I prefer a hard copy of my textbooks if I can so I can write in the book because that’s how I learn best,” the U kinesiology major said. “The campus store might be expensive, but it is still the best option to get books because most of the time they have any book that your class will need right there and you don’t have to wait to have it shipped like you would for Amazon.”
Regardless of preference, Girton recommended students contact their professors after registering to see if the textbook will actually be used for the course. While it is the easier and more affordable option, textbook piracy, as with music and film piracy, can result in academic punishment or expulsion, hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, and possible jail time.