InstitutionalOpinion

Writers of books used in university need to be compensated

As we push for affordable resources for students, it is important to ensure that writers are still getting paid.

An issue occurring at Canadian campuses across the country is the large-scale duplication and distribution of an author’s writing without payment being made to the author. This happens because someone will pay for rights to a piece of writing and then share a password-protected version with the number of individuals they paid to distribute to. However, some of those people who received a shared copy will then make digital or physical copies of unknown quantities, and redistribute those. This is becoming an issue as some of the pieces of writing we use are non-academic sources (such as when a class uses a text written by a private author like a novel writer), meaning the authors are not already being paid by an institution to research and publish things.  

Many of these authors do not have a steady source of income aside from their publications as the time intensity of writing interferes with their ability to earn money in other ways. Dialing back on the time commitment stretches out an already extremely long process, and makes it just more preferable to commit to whatever steady source of income they were trying to pair with writing. This could quite possibly lead to a decline in content production — at the very least either a decline in quality or in the rate at which new content is written.

Moreover, it is unfair to expect them to create content that can take hundreds of hours for compensation that fails to reflect the extent of which is being reproduced. Don’t get me wrong, my ideal world is one where I’m not paying a cent for my education, but we shouldn’t be driving writers into poverty to achieve it. Ultimately part of the the issue is that publishers make too much off of the pieces they distribute, so of that $300 textbook, likely no more than $30 is actually going to the writer. It seems a bit lopsided since the publisher only printed and distributed the textbook — or even in a lot of cases just distributed a digital copy — but the writer literally summoned the piece out of nothing with their own mind.

An interesting possible solution, with how popular it is becoming to get digital materials and then leave it up to the individuals to print as needed, is to pay copyrights directly from the writer and bypass publishers. This would allow universities to cut costs to students and faculty dramatically, without leaving writers out in the cold, and even save trees since fewer copies will be physically printed. The university could also buy copyrights directly and then print and distribute copies itself and would still be able to save some money while still letting writers eat.

Really all that matters is the university in some way restructures how they pay for these materials, so that they are paying in a magnitude reflective of the actual number of copies that get made overall, and are paying that to the writers themselves.

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