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I teach in a college and I have a small annual fund allowing me to purchase textbooks. If I do not use this fund, it will expire every academic year and thus I am considering creative ways that I can make good use of this fund.

I use textbooks which the authors have passed away so that I do not need to worry about newer editions. Also, I teach lower-level mathematics and the content of these courses will not change much over time.

I am considering purchasing a few copies of the textbooks of the courses I teach. I am considering one of the following two:

  1. Allow needy students to use these books for free on a first-come, first-serve basis. I will not check the student's background; instead, I will just trust his/her words on the neediness.
  2. Allow (any) student to rent these textbooks at a very low fee, say $10.00 per semester.

I am checking here if doing this is legal (especially about the renting part: Do I need any permission/lisence?) and appropriate. Or will it cause some potential problems?

Thank you.

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    Just because an author has died doesn't mean their book won't continue to be updated. Dec 10, 2021 at 17:12
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    Have you considered charging a deposit, rather than a fee? Dec 10, 2021 at 17:12

4 Answers 4

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Your first suggestion is almost certainly allowed, legal, and admirable (caveat below). The second one opens issues of what happens to rental fees. You shouldn't really be accepting money for use of your classroom materials beyond the cost of production.

But a loan program would be feasible. If you have more students than books, you could even loan a book to, say, a pair of students to share.

When publishers give you books for your consideration in adopting them, you can also pass those on to students.

Note that some people who use their own textbooks will return the per/copy royalty to their students if the book is required.


Caveat. You don't say the source of the funds. If they come from the university, then you should get approval from someone in the administration. The intent of the grant might be to increase your own knowledge and so have some restrictions.

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    Checking on the terms of the grant is, I agree, essential. The books may be considered the property of the university. Dec 10, 2021 at 17:41
  • 'Your first suggestion is almost certainly allowed, legal' The question is tagged "united-states", but I'll still mention that, in the UK, you might want to ask your institution to manage the scheme, to be sure of getting the protection of section 36A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Dec 10, 2021 at 17:48
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As others have pointed out, the rental fee is problematic. The question to answer is who actually owns the book and, consequently, who is entitled to the rental fee if you charged one. Legally, it is almost certainly the case that whatever you buy from university funds is owned by the university, and it is not up to you to decide what to do with it. In your case, that would mean that you can't just rent out books for a fee in the same way as you can't just rent out your office to a student to live in -- it's not yours to rent out, but the university's. Thinking in the same direction then makes it clear that whatever money would come in from such an arrangement would have to go to the university, not to you.

I tend to think that the rental scheme is not only legally, but also ethically fraught. Imagine that you had enough books to rent to all of your students. Then the students would have the option of paying the publisher $80 for a new book, or pay you $10 for a rental. They'd probably go to you for the rental, but that would mean that you are deriving a secondary income from your primary job, for which the university already pays you. That income presents conflicts of interest: For example, you will no longer be interested in changing the text book used by that course, even if there is a much better one, and that means that you may not be providing your students the best education. One can certainly conjure up other ways in which the scheme provides you with conflicts of interest.

So, no, don't do that. If you happen to have a few spare copies of the book, let the students borrow it instead.

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    This is a great answer! Thank you very much for your input!
    – Zuriel
    Dec 10, 2021 at 20:32
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(2) seems a bit fraught to me. Could be iffy or against policy if not outright illegal, and just puts you and your students both in a weird position.

I'd recommend working through your college's library; it's typical for academic libraries to reserve some materials to only be checked out by students taking a certain course, and I suspect your library would be happy to manage some donated textbooks that way.

Libraries are also quite familiar with the process of lending out books, including offering sufficient carrots and/or sticks to get their books back. For a library affiliated with a college/university, that might include preventing registration, graduation, or transcript release for students who haven't returned a book or paid a fee.

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Renting for a fee something you were given funds to buy is IMO unethical. If you want to be creative along the lines you suggest:

  1. Donate a copy (or more than one) to the library of your institution. This will maximize the reach of your donation;
  2. If you want to get rid of extra copies, you could sell them making it clear that the proceeds go to a scholarship fund or a student food bank or some other student-centred cause.

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