Reading packet prices spiked by copyright costs

By Ethan Jewett

To bundle or not to bundle? That is the question facing many professors as they prepare their syllabi in the days, weeks, and months before class begins. Some choose to provide readings as bundled copies available for purchase at departmental copy shops; some put these readings on e-reserve; and some, like Professor Michael Green, answer simply: “Both.”

“I do both the copied bundles and e-reserve,” Green said. “Some students might prefer one over the other.”

Considerations of convenience to students and a professor’s time factor heavily in a professor’s decisions on this issue. But for many reading materials, copyright fees increase the overall price, overshadowing other factors in the decision. David Coleman, manager of the Social Sciences Auxiliary Service Center, explained, “Printing costs run around $8 for a packet.” The Service Center, however, charges students $30 to $40 on average, according to Coleman.

One packet at the Service Center for the MAPS 30000 class tips the scales at $139 for a 400 page bound booklet consisting mostly of copyrighted material. About $90 of that cost is attributable to copyright fees, Coleman said, adding that the center makes no money from the packets, and that all the charge above and beyond printing costs goes to pay copyright fees.

E-reserve is a separate system, run by the Regenstein, for the distribution of class material online. In contrast to the departmental copy shop, “the library absorbs the copyright costs [associated with posted readings,]” said David Larsen, the head of Access Services at the Regenstein. According to Larsen and Green, a professor only needs to provide the author, title, and page numbers of a work and the e-reserve workers do the rest of the job.

But copyright still factors into the process, though the costs are hidden from students. “We try to make a fair use judgment and seek permission for things we think fall outside of fair use,” Larsen said. This costs the library money, “so we try to keep the amount of copyrighted material down so we don’t have to pay as much.”

Fair use is explicated in Section 107 of Title 17, the United States copyright code. This section lays out a 4-part test to determine if copying without paying fees to the copyright owner is legal. The test takes in to consideration the purpose of the use, the nature of the work, the amount of the work being copied, and the effect of the copying on the market. According to Larsen, there is no easy way to determine if any use falls under fair use.

Allen Sanderson, Senior Lecturer of Social Sciences at the College, takes note of the attempt to keep the amount of copyrighted material on e-reserve to a minimum. He prefers to use both the Social Sciences Service Center and e-reserve, which he says allows students to “weigh convenience, the opportunity cost of their time, etc.” But for his Sport, Society, and Science course, team-taught in the winter, Sanderson said, “I almost exclusively use the bundling option because virtually all of the readings are copyrighted.” Using the bundle option allows the costs of copyright to be passed along to the student.

Students, like professors, seem to prefer the ease of the e-reserve option. “I think e-reserve is amazingly easy,” said Bradley Anderson, a fourth-year in the College.

But expense does factor into students preferences. Dan Dickinson, a second-year in the College, said he thinks e-reserve is generally easy to use, though the first few times are tricky. The real problem, he said, is that “printing it out is too expensive.”

Susan Karr, an instructor in the College, agreed. “It seems like you’re saving students money [by using e-reserve] but you’re really not once you factor in paper and ink costs,” she said.