E-book piracy? Tsk, students

Why is e-book piracy so prevalent in the student world? I'm sure we could all think of a few reasons.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Piracy is illegal -- but just as easy to do online as the old way, where you could buy bootleg copies of films from market stalls.

A quick search online to find a torrent search engine -- perhaps adding the word "proxy" if your favorite site is blocked by your Internet service provider -- and you're there. Type the name of the book, film, television show or album you want, and files are there for the taking.

Rampant piracy and the theft of intellectual copyrighted works causes a headache not just for groups like the MPAA, but can also affect publishers and shops selling hard copies of books. When piracy boils down to e-books -- a problem no more than a fly on the windscreen in comparison to film and music theft -- students are the worst offenders, according to online data monitoring company NetNames.

As reported by the BBC, the agency says that after looking at the availability of 50 popular books across five separate disciplines -- medicine, math, science, engineering and business -- 76 percent of the titles were available to download for free.

Science and engineering were the most pirated textbooks, the agency says.

While popular titles may be available to download online, it is worth noting that in the fields mentioned, it is often the case that new editions are released annually -- which makes downloading older copies redundant. As studying costs rise and students more often rely on their tablets and laptops, it is no surprise that more ebooks are available for download -- a tempting prospect for a broke student -- but that does not mean every student will take advantage of book availability, especially if no new versions are available.

However, in fields were textbook costs are astronomical, jobs are scarce and tuition fees have rocketed, saving money in any way would be a temptation for many, no matter if the process is illegal. 

On the other side of the coin, as books go out of print, some lecturers who work from these titles also encourage students to download illegally. One seminar leader, frustrated that a book was no longer in circulation, gave my class a tutorial on how to use torrent software to download the title -- as well as handing over the exact link we needed.

Others emailed us .pdf copies of full texts. 

Cost and availability are problems. A lessening reliance and tolerance for hard-cover copies is another, as well as the free, open nature of using torrent search websites to find files. However, if publishers offered more digital versions of the academic texts students need -- and for a lower price -- this could be avoided.

Nineteen-year-old student Jubel Amin, who is studying pharmacology and physiology, told the BBC that textbooks are extremely expensive, and when purchasing two, cost him over £180 ($287). Armin said:

"The thing is these books will last us for three years, so it is worth it in the long run. But it's quite expensive. It took about a fifth of my student finance loan, but it's one of those things you have to do I guess."

NetNames says that publishers are trying to provide a legal outlet for students by getting content out as quickly as possible, but the cost of purchasing hard copies is likely to be the underlying problem.

As an experiment, I went through an old book list for three of my third-year science-based modules, and found that the overall cost of purchasing these books used via Amazon was £389 ($621). None of the books, many published between 1993 - 2002, had digital versions available.

Perhaps the increase in piracy is symptomatic of an industry which is yet to catch up to modern times, consumer demands and reading methods. It isn't just about the very high prices and the ease of finding free substitutes -- whether via torrents, Google searching file types or checking out forums -- but an expectation that books can be obtained digitally, and frustration when they are not.

We have children in primary school who have access to tablets to learn, but university students are still dependent on hard copies, that unless bought, require a mad scrabble to try and reserve a library's few copies.

The agency's director of piracy analysis, David Price, said:

"It's something we've been talking to publishers about. We talk to all content owners about this sort of thing. The best way to beat piracy is to get your content out there, to give it to people in some way or make them buy it in some simple, cheap, easy way."

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