After over $30,000 of tuition and another four digits on textbooks, hundred-dollar sourcebooks can feel like the last straw. The most expensive of these packets of photocopies, topping off at over $150, seems downright extortionary. But despite appearances, Harvard officials insist that Harvard doesn’t skim anything off the top of its burgeoning sourcebook business. “No profit is made from the coursepacks, and both the copying and finishing costs are minimal,” says Harvard Printing and Publishing Services (HPPS) CoursePack Coordinator Geraldine Barney.
The primary causes of sourcebook sticker shock are the sometimes astronomical copyright and royalty fees involved in republishing articles. Coursepacks were once protected from copyright violations through the fair use exception clause (Section 107) of the amended Copyright Act of 1976. However, in 1991, Kinko’s Copy Centers lost a copyright lawsuit over the publishing of coursepacks, and universities across the country took notice. Although not every sourcebook necessarily falls under the Kinko’s ruling, each must be scrutinized individually to ensure it passes the copyright rules, which requires legal fees exceeding the cost of the material.
And there are few savings to be reaped by putting coursepacks online. Companies do exist with inventories of thousands of copyright-cleared articles that are free if included in an online coursepack, but any article a professor wanted to use outside of those stockpiles would still accrue copyright fees. Students would have to pay for access to such Internet-based coursepacks, and only a tiny fraction of the cost of printed sourcebooks would be eliminated by saving on physical copying and distribution.
The only way to circumvent royalties altogether would be to publish coursepacks with material written exclusively by Harvard professors.