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Course packet prices skyrocket

Jenn Metz | Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore is defending its pricing of course packets, which increased nearly to the equivalent of textbooks and angered students and professors alike, saying increased copyright and production fees were responsible for the new prices.

Copyright clearance fees and production costs contribute to the overall cost of the packets for students, but the Bookstore also adds a certain percent markup, said Keith Kirkpatrick, director of retail management for the Bookstore. Kirkpatrick said this markup is the same as that on other course materials, but said he could not disclose an exact figure.

Professors, many of whom apologized to students for the extra cost have few options – besides course packets and the libraries’ online reserves – to distribute additional class materials, so the demand for the packets remains strong.

The legal basis for the copyright costs is more than a decade and a half old.

In 1991, a federal court ruled that the reprinting of copyrighted materials for sale in academic course packets did not fall under fair use and that permission was required, according to the Stanford University Libraries copyright and fair use Web site. The case, Basic Books Inc. v. Kinko’s Graphics Corp.,forces institutions to obtain copyright clearance for academic course packets.

“Fair use” is defined as any reproduction of copyrighted material for a “limited and ‘transformative’ purpose,” according to the Web site. Distinguishing distribution of materials as fair use can be used as a defense against copyright infringement.

No copyright clearance occurs in-house at the Bookstore; rather, materials “are sent out of retail walls,” Kirkpatrick said. The copyright fee is determined by the number of references in a given article on a “per incident per use” basis and depends on the publisher.

English professor Chris Vanden Bossche said the copyright fees paid for each of his packets was $28.24.

“I was told the bookstore then added 25 percent,” he said.

That additional cost, combined with printing fees, would bring the packet total to $59.69, Vanden Bossche said. But the final cost of the packet was $65.

“The bottom line is that my students had to pay $65 for a packet that would have cost them $16 last spring,” he said.

Vanden Bossche sees major problems with the increase in packet price. First, he said, there were errors in paying the copyright fees.

He said he was not consulted regarding “all items and fees that were charged for materials that are in the public domain.” The Web site states professors will be notified prior to production if a packet will cost more than $50.

The second problem, he said, is “the outrageously high” bookstore markup – “in that it adds no value to students, unless it’s worth $20 for the convenience.”

Kirkpatrick has been at his position at the Bookstore for two months and said he could not compare current Bookstore policy to the policies of the old Copy Shop in the LaFortune Student Center basement, which regularly produced course packets in previous years.

Tim Wright of Copy Wright, Inc., owned the Copy Shop, which closed its doors last March after a long legal battle to renew the lease on the University premises.

When he produced course packets for professors, he said, he tried to keep the average cost to $50 for course packets.

“I didn’t like high-priced course packets,” he said. “They didn’t help the kids and they didn’t help us.”

He used the Copyright Clearance Center to ensure permission to use the materials. The organization charged an administrative fee, which – like in the bookstore production process – added to the overall cost of the packets.

Still, course packets were very profitable for the Copy Shop, Wright said. When packets would be extremely expensive due to copyright fees, Wright would sell the packets for the price of printing only.

“We did a pretty credible job at getting things cleared, getting it done quickly and at the least amount of cost to students,” he said.

The Bookstore oversaw the production of about 120 classes’ course packets this semester, Kirkpatrick said. There are other copy centers on campus that can handle the copyright clearance of materials and printing, but all retail sales take place in the bookstore.

The Notre Dame Business Operations Web site lists several benefits of course packet sale through the bookstore and its recent agreement with FedEx Kinko’s.

The Bookstore becomes a single point of contact for course packet submission and purchase, so students can charge course packets to their student accounts – and faculty and staff need not spend time obtaining their own copyright clearance.

Through this system, the University “bears no copyright clearance liability” and is not responsible for excess inventory.

University Custom Publishing (UCP) conducts the copyright clearance and, in doing so, collects royalties and copyright fees from the Bookstore that contribute to the price of the course packets. Due to the “comprehensive copyright clearance by UCP,” the Web site says, faculty may see an increase in the cost of their packets.

The average turn-around time for production is three weeks.

Student Government has taken on the issue of course packet prices as one of its projects this semester. Stephen Bant, Fisher Hall senator and a member of the Academic Affairs Committee, is leading the initiative.

“It feels like everyone is being ripped off,” he said.

In his research, he discovered plans for a College of Arts and Letters committee that will investigate the course packet issue in October.

His goal is to see if there is a way to return to the old system, where course packets were sold at the campus copy center where they were printed, like in Flanner Hall, O’Shaughnessy Hall, Decio Faculty Hall and the old Copy Shop.

Though he is not optimistic, Bant said, he is currently investigating electronic means of distribution like the “electronic reserve” (e-reserve) system on the University Libraries’ Web site to lower student costs.

His committee is currently working on a student opinion survey that will come out next week so students like freshman Jim Hasson can make their opinions on the matter heard.

Hasson acknowledged the convenience of “one-stop shopping” but complained of the high prices of course packets.

Hasson’s philosophy course packet cost $45, which he said was “way too much money for a bunch of photocopies.” He did appreciate the option of charging the packet to his student charge account at the Bookstore.

As a result of student outcry and his own discontent with the price increase, Theology professor Brad Malkovsky now posts articles for students on e-reserve through the Library.

Last year, his theology packet was less than $30. This year, the price skyrocketed to $93.

“I am not blaming anyone in particular for gouging our students, but I did apologize to my students on the first day of class for the price increase,” he said.

He was told by people at the Decio copy center that one of the articles he wanted to use, roughly 25 pages in length, would cost each student $8. Another article would cost $6. The publishers, he said, are behind these usage and copyright costs, which contribute to overall packet price.

With e-reserve, students can decide how much of the material they want to print out, which is a method cheaper putting the articles into packets.

“I think students are much happier paying for the cost of paper instead of $94 for a packet,” he said.

“One of [e-reserve’s] advantages is that I am legally able to use a higher percentage of a book’s pages for class material than when I was submitting material for a hard-copy packet,” he said.

According to the Business Operations Web site, copyright laws also apply to electronic media, but the University Libraries purchased licensing agreements that allow linkages to E-Reserves or reproduction. If the materials to be put on e-reserve fall outside of fair use guidelines, copyright clearance is maintained. The turn-around for that process is about ten days.

“I will never use a hard-copy packet again,” Malkovsky said.

Meg Mirshak contributed reporting to this article.