“Everyone Pirates”: Higher Ed Students Increasingly Seek Free Learning Materials

As textbook prices skyrocket and the internet makes producing and sharing digital files easier by the day, students are increasingly turning to illegal means to access their learning materials. A recent study says that as few as one in five students use fully legal sources for their textbooks. Nearly a quarter admitted that none of their textbooks or other material were acquired from a legitimate source.  Most students cite the high price of textbooks as the primary reason for downloading unlicensed material, saying, “Is it unethical to want to be educated or is it unethical to charge so much [for textbooks]?”

(Photo Credit: Google Images)
(Photo Credit: Google Images)

A common narrative surrounding modern students is that they are capable of finding whatever material they need, from whatever online source possible. But many students included in the survey say they don’t know how to access illegal resources: it usually needs a level of ingrained research ability or word-of-mouth sharing to be able to find unlicensed material online. Other students find work through unofficial, potentially illicit channels, without realizing that this access can make them subject to legal action. Many students in both groups expressed jealousy for students that could knowingly access unlicensed textbooks. In other words, the overwhelming consensus among those surveyed was that “pirating” textbooks was morally justifiable, if unfortunate.

The researchers in the South African study hope that its results point to the importance of the creation and use of “Open Education Resources,” or OERs, which are learning materials that are specifically given licenses that encourage free sharing and use. In this way, students and instructors both can avoid the hassles of dealing with proprietary textbooks and the resulting piracy.

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