Over the past couple of weeks there has been some unhappiness about us needing to purchase an Accounting textbook that costs S$293 at the INSEAD bookshop. In fact in other shops I heard it is selling for higher than that. There are similar rumblings about buying other textbooks in the S$50 range but I recall we were informed - before school started - to set aside about 800 euros for textbooks, so I thought that was a fair enough warning.
Before I continue with this story, I want to make it clear that I do not intend to pass judgment on anyone… because it is not my business nor according to my faith. I’m far from perfect myself. However, I do mind when someone thinks it is their business to tell me I’m wasting my money buying original books. Throughout my life, Singaporean friends (who do have money) have also made similar comments as to why I purchase original music, software and DVDs. Well, it’s my money and my choice; I cannot sleep well knowing that copyright has been breached and the original author isn’t getting anything from it. Creativity should be rewarded.
Anyway, back to the current situation. Firstly, all of us think the Accounting textbook is way too expensive and should have been included in our course material handouts. However, it is a big book and we will be reading many chapters, not just one or two. Also, when someone gave feedback to INSEAD staff, they told us that it was not possible to make copies, due to copyright restrictions. Which is fair enough.
At this point, our opinions diverge. A few may have taken matters into their own hands. We can photocopy up to a certain number of pages legally, but not the whole book… Some of us have placed an order for the original book while presumably a few lucky ones have bought the book second hand. (Note to juniors reading this post: I can sell mine to you when I’m done with it!) You can also grab a copy in the library though during peak season it may be hard to get hold of one.
A bit of background: I’ve been a stickler for copyright since I was young. It has childish origins, but the story is that when I was 13, my teacher asked us to write an original poem, to be graded at the end of class. I wrote something good, but my (then) best friend saw it and copied it wholesale. She was quite serious about passing it up as her work, regardless of the fact that I had written it. Obviously if we both handed up the same work it wouldn’t look good, and who could prove that I wrote it first?
With the little time that I had left, I racked my brains to think of a new topic. It turned out well because my second poem was more unusual than the first, and it ended up getting published in the school newsletter, which wasn’t easy getting into. On a side note, I distanced myself from this so-called best friend because I realised that we had different outlooks in life.
As such, one reason why I studied law was so that I could opt to focus on Intellectual Property, my favourite section being (what else but) copyright. Of course now times have changed and I am supporting Creative Commons instead. I agree that we are sometimes held to ‘ransom’ by high prices. But whatever the terms are, and no matter how remote the situation, I believe intellectual rights should be respected.
Rather than see just two alternatives (pay through your nose or steal), I actually thought a better workaround would be to think of a new solution, such as looking for the cheapest source, which at this time of writing is Amazon.com - provided you can wait weeks for the book to arrive. On hindsight we could’ve saved a hundred bucks or so without doing compromising anything. Juniors, do note this…
Like I said at the start, it’s up to the individual to make his own choice. I’m just stating my own belief and my personal ethics, which I stand by, even at the price of S$293.