The Cost of a Quality Education

Stricter Enforcement of Copyright Laws Means Higher Sourcebook Bills for Students

Book bills that regularly exceed $300 have become as beloved a Harvard tradition as the Quantitive Reasoning Requirement. But some Harvard administrators and publishing experts are already hinting that next fall's book bills will lighten even the heaviest wallets.

The reason? In March 1991, a federal court ruled that copying giant Kinko's Graphics Corp. had violated copyright statutes, touching off a movement by publishers to force copiers and colleges to seek permission before they copy any materials for courses.

Now, with publishers stepping up compliance measures and copy shops nervous about touching anthologies of any kind, industry experts and Harvard administrators involved in sourcebook production say methods of producing course materials may change.

First, copiers have left college professors and their assistants with the responsibility of securing written permission from the publisher of every article they use in sourcebooks.

Second, buying books could become more of a trial for students. Some administrators say that, in a variety of ways, changes in the publishing industry could lead to more expensive sourcebooks, higher total book bills and less comprehensive course readings.

While Harvard's record of compliance with copyright law is good, that record does not shield the University from the costly and time-consuming process. Harvard administrators now say that the added costs of obtaining permissions, along with a corresponding rise in the royalty fees publishers collect from such permissions, may force them to raise the price of many sourcebooks.

"There are more publishers now--especially in England and small university presses--that insist that we go through the Copyright Clearance Center, which adds another fee," says William G. Witt, copyright officer at Harvard's Sourcebook Publications office. Copyright Clearance Center is a Salem, Mass.-based, not-for-profit corporation that processes copyright permissions request for the academic community.

Beyond the increased administrative costs, Witt says he has seen steep increases in royalty fees.

"In general, I would say [royalty] fees have increased 25 to 50 percent, in some cases as much as 100 percent," Witt says.

Despite the added costs, administrators say they are doing what they can to prevent the price of sourcebooks from escalating. But some are having difficulty keeping prices low.

"This year's sourcebook went up pretty substantially, from [about] $50 to $63," says John Owen, head section leader for Historical Study A-12, "International Conflicts in the Modern World." "I'm not an expert, but I think the changes in the syllabus and the permissions was responsible for that."

While the Kinko's case has sparked many of the most significant changes in copyright permissions, the movement for greater compliance is nothing new for publishers. After the Congress revamped copyright law in 1976, publishers--who do business in a high-risk, low-return $50 million industry--began trying to make copying companies comply with their interpretation of the new statutes.

Before the March 1991 ruling, college professors nationwide used different methods of compiling sourcebooks. Faced with vague copyright laws, some professors, particularly those in large departments and universities like Harvard, meticulously filled out "permissions," or requests sent to copyright holders asking for permission to use their materials.

Many professors, however, bypassed copyright holders, simply taking the articles they wanted in their sourcebooks directly to local copiers and printers. Many professors and copying firms say they believed this practice was protected under Section 1.07 of the 1976 Copyright Act, also known as the "fair use" provision.

The law reads: "The fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies ... for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research is not an infringement of copyright."