When someone mentions pirates and piracy, we think of the universal definition: attacking and robbing ships at sea. But the modern definition extends beyond that practice.
Here is how piracy is defined by The Economic Times: “Unauthorized duplication of copyrighted content that is then sold at substantially lower prices in the ‘grey’ market.”
With students being able to access technology at all times, they can easily engage in piracy. They download music and burn their own CDs. They watch movies they get from The Pirate Bay. But they also do something more serious: they engage in piracy when they need academic resources. They scan or copy entire books. Sometimes one student purchases an eBook and distributes it to the entire class for free. EBooks are also available on The Pirate Bay and similar sites, so they download them as torrents and use them for their papers.
These practices may be seen as beneficial. Students are always on a tight budget, so they are seen as heroes in this case. That would probably make them the only good pirates in history. But is this really a good practice or will it lead to a so-called pirate degree?
This is an interesting issue worth investigating. Are you in?
Students as Modern Pirates: What Do They Steal?
These are some of the most common resources subjected to piracy among students:
- Academic textbooks
- Visuals for their academic projects
Why Do They Do It?
When students use photos or graphics for their academic projects, they usually do it because they are not informed about copyright infringement. They believe that the visual is needed for an improved appeal of the paper. It makes the text clearer. But without referencing the source where it came from, the student engages in piracy.
As for the other sources of piracy mentioned on the list above, they usually have a financial background. Academic textbooks are very expensive. The average amount of money that students spend on resources per course is $153. Over a single year, the student has to spend over $1,200 on books and materials.
BookFinder is an online service that helps students to find more affordable textbooks. Still, they have to pay a lot of money even when they buy second-hand editions. The problem is that professors ask them to use the latest editions, which are sometimes impossible to buy as used.
Borrowing the textbook from a library is a great solution. But the student needs it throughout the entire semester, so it’s still a problem. The solution is to get the book, scan it, and print it out. Some students distribute copies to others, so they are seen as the good pirates on campus.
The reason for software piracy is the same. Students often need to use expensive software for their academic projects. It’s easier to download and use illegal versions. That’s free and they get the same features.
Can we argue about the moral issue here?
Yes; the authors of the textbooks and software spend a lot of time and effort to develop their work. They deserve fair pay. But the student needs these resources and they can’t pay for them. What could they do?
The educational system needs to provide solutions for them. Textbooks don’t have to be that expensive. The government can offer subventions, so the authors will still get fair pay without burdening the students. As for software, universities are already doing something: they offer computer labs where the students can use the technology they need, free of charge.
What about the Music and the Movies?
In this case, we can discuss the moral background of piracy. If students want to support their favorite artists, they will buy their work. They will also pay a ticket to the movies, or they will subscribe to Netflix if they want to watch movies all the time.
Then why don’t all students do that?
If you ask a student who downloads torrents, they will joke about it. They will say it’s Google’s fault. If they can listen to music or watch a movie for free, why would they ever pay for it?
During college or university, students are focused on saving money. They won’t go to the movies, they won’t pay for albums, and they won’t think about the consequences of illegal downloads. They are mostly concerned about their studies.
The Issue of Plagiarism: Is There a Connection to Piracy?
Piracy is accessing someone’s copyrighted work without their permission. Plagiarism is using someone’s work without acknowledging the source. That’s the main difference between the two issues. Still, plagiarism is connected to piracy.
Let’s see that through an example.
A student has to write an assignment or argumentative essay by a close deadline. They use an essay mill service or choose outstanding assignment assistance, where they buy a monthly fee and download a paper on a similar topic. Then they present that paper as their own. This is straightforward plagiarism. The essay already existed and someone else already submitted it. The more subtle form of cheating is buying the paper from an online writing service. This time, the student will get unique content, but it’s still not theirs. It’s not the same thing as the student writing content and asking a professional editor: “correct my essay please or I need good topics to write about?” That’s different because the editor only corrects grammar and form.
The difference is that piracy is large-scale reproduction of someone’s work without their permission and without paying for it. Plagiarism is presenting someone’s work as your own. The connection between piracy and plagiarism is in copyright infringement. As it turns out, students are guilty of multiple forms of copyright infringement.
Can We Do Something about It?
Students have to access learning resources, one way or another. When they are not able to pay for it or they simply want to save money, they will borrow textbooks and other materials. But their classmates also need these textbooks. The library doesn’t allow them to have them throughout the entire semester.
The educational system imposes high expenses, so the students are practically forced towards unethical practices. They wouldn’t do this if they didn’t have to. But they can, and they have to.
What can universities and professors do? If they don’t want their materials to be pirated, they have to make them affordable. That’s the only solution to the problem.
Elizabeth Skinner is a researcher and educational expert. She shares her insights on her blog, but she also enjoys guest posting. Elizabeth’s main focus is copyright protection and infringement, especially in the educational sector.