ONTD Political

Anti-Piracy Patent Aims to Stop Students Sharing Textbooks

1:08 pm - 06/11/2012
Professor's patent strangles textbook sharing on and offline

The realm of academic file-sharing is notorious — is it legal to share these notes, and this is alright because we need it for the course but it’s no longer in print, right? Students sharing textbooks, presentations and notes facilitated by Facebook’s new Group feature came to mind — but now, going beyond the realms of copyright infringement, it may go so far as to lower your grades.

A new patent granted this week aims to stop students from sharing textbooks, both off and online. The patent awarded to economics professor Joseph Henry Vogel hopes to embed the publishing world even further into academia. Under his proposal, students can only participate in courses when they buy an online access code which allows them to use the course book. No access code means a lower grade, all in the best interests of science.

For centuries, students have shared textbooks with each other, but a new patent aims to stop this “infringing” habit.

The patent in question was granted to Professor of Economics Joseph Henry Vogel. He believes that piracy, lending and reselling of books is a threat to the publishing industry.

“Professors are increasingly turning a blind eye when students appear in class with photocopied pages. Others facilitate piracy by placing texts in the library reserve where they can be photocopied,” Vogel writes.

The result is less money for publishers, and fewer opportunities for professors like himself to get published. With Vogel’s invention, however, this threat can be stopped.

The idea is simple. As part of a course, students will have to participate in a web-based discussion board, an activity which counts towards their final grade. To gain access to the board students need a special code, which they get by buying the associated textbook.

Students who don’t pay can’t participate in the course and therefore get a lower grade.

The system ensures that students can’t follow courses with pirated textbooks, as tens of thousands are doing today. Lending books from a library or friend, or buying books from older students, isn’t allowed either. At least, not when the copyright holders don’t get their share.

Vogel’s idea leaves the option open for students to use second-hand textbooks, but they still have to buy an access code at a reduced price. This means publishers can charge multiple times for a book that was sold only once.

Needless to say, publishers are excited about gaining more control in the classroom. Anthem Press of London has already expressed interest in the system and Pat Schroeder, president of the Association of American Publishers, also welcomes the idea.

“For every rogue site that is taken down, there are hundreds more demanding similar effort. I can’t think of a more timely example of the need for additional tools,” he says.

On the surface the idea might seem well-intentioned, but to proponents of an open knowledge society it goes completely in the wrong direction. If anything, the Internet should make it easier for students to access knowledge, not harder or impossible.

While it’s understandable that publishers want to stop piracy, preventing poor students from borrowing textbooks from a library or friend goes too far.

Thanks to the Internet, publishers are replaceable. And since many of the textbook authors are professors who get paid by universities, it is not hard to release books in a more open system.

Professor Vogel believes that sending more money to publishers helps academia, which might be a flawed line of reasoning. Isn’t it much better to strive to make knowledge open and accessible, instead of restricting it even further?


Source1: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/igeneration/professors-patent-strangles-textbook-sharing-on-and-offline/16369
Source2: http://torrentfreak.com/anti-piracy-patent-prevents-students-from-sharing-books-120610/
thistlerose 11th-Jun-2012 07:39 pm (UTC)
As a librarian at a community college and a former student, this makes me so angry. Probably the #1 question I get at the reference desk is, Can I get my textbook at the library? We have some textbooks, which the students can check out for a few hours at a time, and I encourage them to make photocopies or to scan the chapters they need. Because they want to do well in their courses, but those books are ridiculously overpriced, and the overwhelming majority of my kids aren't wealthy. *rages*

Others facilitate piracy by placing texts in the library reserve where they can be photocopied

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is bullshit, right? It isn't copyright infringement if you're copying a portion of something for academic purposes.
celandine 11th-Jun-2012 08:02 pm (UTC)
You are not wrong. It falls under the fair use clause (and also under the right of first sale to make it available at the library), and I'd love to see this raging asshole try to publish anything without access to the library that he appears to be so pissed off at.
sesmo 11th-Jun-2012 08:08 pm (UTC)
It's not as clear as that. You cannot copy "substantive portions" of the book, even for academic purposes. Especially because you can show a strong likelihood that it reduces the market for the book itself. That said, I don't think any academic publisher is going to go after professors or libraries. They know the profs can choose different books, and the libraries spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on books.
thistlerose 11th-Jun-2012 08:16 pm (UTC)
No, you're right. I went and looked up the actual wording of the Fair Use Act after I commented. I was thinking of the instructors who photocopy newspaper stories to share in class. I hope you're right about the publishers. I would think that most instructors would be on the side of the students. At least at community colleges like mine where publishing isn't a requirement.
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