Most universities and colleges, if not all, have a course that touches on copyright.
Moi University has Information Science. The University of Nairobi has Journalism and Communication, and Daystar University has Communication, just to mention a few.
Apart from these courses, there’s also the law unit, which is offered by universities in the country.
In each of these courses, lecturers teach students about copyright; what it is and what constitutes its infringement.
We were taught in information science and public relations classes that photocopying a book without the requisite permission of the copyright holder would be against the law, except for the very strict exemptions made on the copyright page of the book.
Yet at student centres and other photocopying areas in institutions of higher learning, the exact opposite of this lesson goes on in the open.
Students photocopy entire books. Some shop owners photocopy books in advance and store them for sale.
With such scenarios, what does the student learn? That the lessons on copyright law are a mere hot air?
After leaving the university and gaining a position of influence, such a student will never see the need to put an end to the vile and impoverishing vice that is copyright infringement.
There are many excuses offered for this sad situation, top of the list being that the books are too expensive for students. That may be true. But why are the books expensive?
Well, they are imported from Europe, the US and India. But why must they be imported? It’s because there are very few locally produced books. And this is the case because publishers and lecturers see no point in publishing books only for them to be photocopied. It’s a vicious cycle.
This notwithstanding, the fight against the vice is of great importance to publishers, but it is of even greater value to universities. Here is how.
If dealt with, it will mean that locally-based publishers will be more willing to risk their money and invest in the business. This means that more faculty will have their material published and circulated widely, given that many publishers have an international reach.
Higher sales will create competition and encourage more faculty to research and publish, thus pushing up the quality of material available as well as the stature of the university, especially considering that these institutions are often judged by the number and quality of publications that their faculties churn out.
To start off the fight against copyright infringement, therefore, let the universities begin by banning the photocopying of entire books by shops within their jurisdictions, and, eventually with the help of the police, the surrounding areas.
It is easy to enforce such a ban within the universities’ precincts. If any of the people allowed to carry out the photocopying business is caught copying an entire book, the business is terminated.
They will complain and whine, but it must be done for the greater good.
Additionally, lecturers must not allow students to use photocopies of books in their classes.
At the same time, universities must begin to find more affordable ways to make books available to students. A model like the one adopted by Daystar University and USIU, where students pay for books that are then bought and distributed by the university, would also help.
The HELB money that is allocated to students would serve better if channelled directly to the university instead of handing the money to students, some of whom spend a part of it on music players and booze and then use the balance to photocopy the books they need.
Hopefully, universities and the new Commission for University Education will see the importance of taking such measures.
Mr Mugendi is a senior editor at a local publishing firm