Book Piracy Threatens SA Education

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Piracy of books and online study materials poses a threat to the education of learners and students in South Africa, says the Publishers’ Association of South Africa (PASA). It launched an anti-piracy campaign on 4 March 2024 to highlight the wide-ranging effects of illegally downloading, sharing and using pirated material.  

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“Education is negatively impacted by piracy,” says Brian Wafawarowa, CEO of Juta, the oldest publishing house in the country.

Students who use old or wrong editions of textbooks do not possess the material that they actually need in order to have a prosperous academic experience.

He says because students continue to pirate books, fewer copies are sold. This, in turn, drives up the price of textbooks further, which impacts sales even more. 
Publishers are at present seeing a spike in their higher education textbooks being illegally downloaded from online libraries. Textbooks are then distributed freely across student WhatsApp and Telegram groups or institutions’ secure networks, and even commercialised through these channels. Wafawarowa says if people bought textbooks as they did before the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) began to deposit book allowances directly into students’ accounts, textbooks would not be as expensive as they are now.

But at the moment, sales have fallen to less than 20% of our target

He adds that this leads to a loss of people’s livelihoods, referring to authors who lose royalties and publishers who are unable to continue printing books. “People with families to support lose their jobs because other people are choosing, effectively, to steal from them,” he says. “We need to get universities and students on board with this campaign, so that they can be educated about the actual effects of piracy. Because people can’t see the victim, they feel OK with it. But the victims are everywhere.” 

By raising awareness across print and social media channels, and with the cooperation of South African universities, PASA’s anti-piracy campaign seeks to combat the intellectual property theft, safeguard the rights of authors and publishers, ensure that creators are fairly compensated for their contributions to the literary landscape and that society is served by quality educational materials. 

A cornerstone of PASA's anti-piracy initiative is the recognition of the impact of quality educational resources, such as textbooks, on student success, and the negative consequences that piracy will have on these resources in the long term. Studies have consistently demonstrated that access to well-designed textbooks significantly contributes to improved pass rates and overall academic performance.  

Surveys and research in various contexts suggest that the use of relevant, up-to-date textbooks assist students to be more likely to achieve higher grades and pass their exams. This is especially true for students in developing countries. However, authors are not inclined to update their textbooks when they receive no compensation for their work.  

Christa Lawrence, Head of Educational Publishing at Juta, says: “Because textbooks are essential learning resources, they’re seen as a grudge purchase, something people have no choice about buying.”  

With this view, users look for other means to access their learning material—with dire implications for everyone along the knowledge production value chain, including students.   

“What happens when nobody is producing educational material anymore, because every time it is made, it is just pirated?” asks Melvin Kaabwe, former president of the South African Booksellers Association. 

We want to be an educated society, and we need to understand that there are costs involved in education. Imagine you wrote a book. You spent so much time on this beautiful project. Would you want it to be stolen? If that meant you couldn’t pay rent, eat? I wouldn’t. Who would? Somehow, it’s become normal. We need this to change.

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