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What Should Students Pay for University Course Readings? An Empirical, Economic, and Legal Analysis




Higher education, Copyright, Syllabus readings


In the context of the significant court battles that are being fought over the potential copyright infringement involved in distributing the articles and excerpts assigned to students in university courses, this study analyzes 3,391 course syllabuses (2015-2020) from nine provinces and 34 universities across Canada. It identifies the types and proportions of required readings among academic and non-academic sources. Academic readings are assigned on 26.6 percent of the syllabuses, compared to 8.3 percent of syllabuses for media articles and trade book chapters. Among the assigned readings, journal articles lead the list (with 54.3% of all readings), compared to scholarly book chapters (33.5%), media articles (6.0%), and trade book chapters (6.3%). The social sciences lead in the assignment of journal articles and the humanities in  trade book chapters, while science was least likely to have assigned readings of any type. The study also found that textbooks are required on a majority of syllabuses (66.0%), with only minor differences in this proportion across science, social sciences, and humanities. The data enable a further analysis at the page level of what the average student is asked to read annually, which, at the Access Copyright current tariff of $14.31 (approved by the Canadian Copyright Board), amounts to a $0.021 per page. This rate is applied in a proposed new “three-step syllabus rule” that avoids double-charging students for academic materials (90.1% of readings by pages), while fairly compensating professional authors and their publishers (9.9%), with the data analyzed here suggesting a $1.40 annual charge per student for their assigned readings. Version 2 of this preprint contains an appendix setting out how the Open Syllabus Project can be used with the three-step syllabus rule. 


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01/12/2021 — Updated on 04/28/2021


How to Cite

Willinsky, J., & Baron, C. (2021). What Should Students Pay for University Course Readings? An Empirical, Economic, and Legal Analysis. In SciELO Preprints. (Original work published 2021)


Applied Social Sciences