A special operation mounted by the Copyright Licensing Agency has uncovered large-scale illegal photocopying of books by students in central London.
Lawyers acting for the CLA have told a Bloomsbury copy shop, which was offering a special deal of 2p per page, that it will be prosecuted if it continues to offer unlicensed copying.
But the CLA stressed this week that while the students themselves were breaking the law and could be held personally to account, their actions were a direct result of tutors failing to provide properly authorised course packs.
The CLA, alerted by a concerned author, has taken video footage of students from outside the shop. The film shows students making multiple copies of book pages and journal articles from their reading lists. One student questioned had spent Pounds 58 on copies, and the shop had been surrounded by queues of students.
Further investigations were underway at the same copy-shop chain in Glasgow this week and others are planned elsewhere.
"This amounts to a massive infringement of copyright," said Raymonde Kilpatrick, research and compliance manager at CLA. "Students should be in no doubt that breaching copyright is theft."
Ms Kilpatrick said she was at a loss to explain why tutors were not giving students course packs that had been cleared through the CLA. "Students are caught in the middle of all this," she said. "Students want course packs and they can be legitimately provided for a reasonable fee, but instead tutors are putting students in the dreadful position of infringing the law."
The CLA and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals have a new licence agreement, which took effect in April.
Ms Kilpatrick said the agreement was generous to universities. For an additional fee, a compilation of materials designed to support a course could be cleared by telephone through the CLA's rapid clearance system. To relieve academics of the burden of course-pack administration, the CLA authorised course packs to be sold to students through college bookshops.
Adrienne Aziz, assistant general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said tutors had no obligation to provide course packs. "Teaching is not regulated even by the universities, let alone any outside body, and we would strongly resist that idea," she said. Selling course packs to students was unworkable as monitoring costs was too complex.
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