Thirteen copy store owners and employees were arrested at four copy stores in Montreal last Thursday for selling illegally photocopied textbooks. The RCMP seized around 2,700 counterfeit books over the last few weeks.
Investigations started this past fall, when the RCMP received several complaints from university publishes that Montreal copy centres were photocopying textbooks illegally and selling them at a fraction of the price.
“Many students brought concerns to some legitimate stores and those stores came to us and prompted the investigation,” said RCMP Corporal Luc Thibault.
“We are still investigating and unless someone is charged, we can’t release the names of the copyright stores or of the people arrested,” said Thibault.
If suspects are found guilty, they could be charged with violating the Copyright Act and fined up to $1 million dollars or be imprisoned for up to five years.
Third-year McGill social work student Sivan Havusha heard from a friend that Copie 2000 at Stanley and Sherbrooke photocopied textbooks at a low cost. She borrowed two textbooks from friends to get them photocopied.
“I felt bad for doing it, but my textbooks all cost more than $100 each. I felt I could justify it because books are so expensive and I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks,” she said.
She also said that a CBC reporter who interviewed her had mentioned that Copie Nova – a copy store located on Sherbrooke at Peel where McGill students often purchase coursepacks – blew the whistle on its competitor, Copie 2000.
The RCMP confirms that the majority of complaints came from legitimate copy stores. Copie Nova said they had no idea how the investigation got started.
The owner of Copie 2000 has owned the store for 26 years, but said he had no problems until two weeks ago. “We’ve been photocopying textbooks for years with no problem and then the police came two weeks ago and took everything as evidence. Before, we never used to check when people asked us to photocopy things. Now, we have to be very careful and make sure that everything students give us won’t violate any copyright laws,” said the owner, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A representative of McGill-Queen’s University Press said they did not hear any complaints about illegal copying, and that it is a significant loss when stores photocopy books illegally, since course books are a major source of their revenue.
Adrian Edwards, owner of the independent Word bookstore on Milton, said textbook prices are a real problem.
“I’ve been checking prices on books for 25 years and they have been rising steadily beyond the rate of inflation. When a book is reasonably priced, the price immediately goes up once it is used for a large class,” said Edwards. “Students are being taken advantage of and it’s a real scam.”
McGill mathematics professor Stephen Drury agreed. “I would like textbooks to be cheaper but unfortunately, they’re not. The real problem is the constant publishing of new editions every year – and I’ve found that the textbooks get even worse with every edition. That’s why I tell my students that any old textbook will do,” said Drury.
This is not the first time copy stores have been busted. In January 2006, the owner of the U Compute store near Concordia University was charged with copyright infringement, punished with a six-month suspension, and required to complete 400 hours of community service.
“People blame the McGill bookstores, but it’s really the publishers who set the high prices. Because of that, illegal photocopying has been going on for years, and periodically the police fine stores just to calm it down, but it always starts again.”