Textbook Piracy – Book Publishers Making Inroads?
Using the Internet to “improperly” download copyrighted material continues to be a major issue for a number of industries. Of late, downloading has moved beyond the pleasure phase of securing one’s favorite song and into the world of college textbooks.
The issue for both industries is fundamentally the same. Distributing music or books over the Internet without permission is a violation of copyright law. At the same time, such action deprives each respective industry of significant revenues.
As one would expect, the behavior is drawing the same criticism from book publishers as it has from the recording industry. However, at this point there has been no legal push to go after individuals who have pirated copyright materials.
Textbook Prices Add to the Issue
Hiawatha Bray, reporting for the Boston Globe, recently spent some time discussing the textbook issue with Ed McCoyd, the director of digital policy at the Association of American Publishers. McCoyd indicated that textbook piracy has become particularly ‘seductive’ because of the fact that students often have extreme difficulty finding the cash to pay for academic books that often cost more than $100 per individual text.
Bray went on to quote a student who concurred that textbook pricing was one of the key factors that contributed to his willingness to download pirated materials. In addition, the same student noted that many of the listed textbooks were seldom used in class, a situation that made the purchase of expensive texts particularly troubling for students.
Illegal But Tough to Stop
Adding to the challenge for publishers is the inability to impose consequences on sites posting copyrighted materials. Federal law protects websites from potential copyright lawsuits as long as they respond to a removal request from someone holding a copyright.
Bray reported that a site called Scribd “gets at least one take-down request a day, including frequent ones from Harvard University Press and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.” The site seeks to offer legal file sharing options for students but users frequently post copyrighted works.
Bray notes that with thousands of works posted daily, keeping up with the improper sharing is an ongoing challenge of epic proportions. In addition, sites like Scribd will not act on suspicion of pirated material. Action will be taken only when a publisher makes a complaint.
Bray went to the Scribd site to see what he might find. He noted numerous copyrighted works including the Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology, a $214 item. According to Bray, site data revealed more than 300 visitors had viewed the book (we could not locate the text on the site).
One Web Site Discontinued
It is likely the Bray article may have been the catalyst for Scribd taking the Gale book down. In addition, the recent publicity has seemingly led to the closure of a second site that blatantly sought to offer copyrighted materials to students.
Highlighted negatively in a Chronicle of Higher Education article a couple of months ago, the site Textbook Torrents has apparently been taken down by its web host. Right out of the gate, Textbook Torrents was promising more than 5,000 textbooks for download in PDF format.
The process was to include a free user-account with access to a free software program utilizing a peer-to-peer system called BitTorrent. Once the user had downloaded the software, access to texts was to be a snap.
As for its honoring copyright law, the site’s opening lines included:
“There are very few scanned textbooks in circulation, and that’s what we’re here to change. Chances are you have some textbooks sitting around, so pick up a scanner and start scanning it!”
According to the web site UsedBooksBlog.com , the disappearance is in direct response to publishers taking issue with the site’s intent. The site’s owner A.J. Kohn noted that he had e-mailed Dreamhost in regards to the matter. DreamHost responded to the e-mail with an acknowledgment that the site’s activity was not in keeping with the intent of copyright law.
“We received very long DMCA takedown notices from publishers of the content in question,” stated Dreamhost. “The site was further closed down due to violations of our Terms of Service due to it’s illegal facilitation of the distribution of copyrighted content without the copyright owners consent.”
A visit to the Textbook Torrents site currently yields only an error message though archived links can be found when a search engine like Google is utilized.
Ongoing Battle Looms
Adding to the challenge for textbook companies is the anonymity and the world-wide basis of the Internet. Many sites are based in foreign countries that have little support for American copyright laws.
While it is doubtful any US web host would knowingly accept a site like Textbook Torrents, such a site could reemerge in yet another format in another country. That said, what is more likely to occur is individual sharing among students, something that will be much harder for the textbook industry to track.
At the same time, Kohn offers a list of sites offering textbooks online. Kohn’s list includes Scribd and the explanation that the site is the only one in the list that allows users to upload materials, an aspect that could lead to copyrighted materials being improperly uploaded.
Reduced Costs Would Lead to Reduced Pirating
Given the prior explanations, it would seem that enforcement needs to give way to methodologies that allow such textbooks to be purchased at more reasonable levels. Creating e-editions that forgo the entire book publishing process could seemingly be one method for bringing down such costs.
Producing materials at a more reasonable cost to students would go a long way towards reducing the “seduction” aspect noted by McCoyd, helping the industry keep a better lid on the improper downloading of copyrighted textbooks.