Napster Deja Vu
I’ve always maintained that the e-book piracy scene is relatively small, although (as David Pogue suggested recently) it can be significant in certain market segments. One of those is textbooks, which students are often compelled to buy for relatively high prices. It seems that this opportunity for sharing has been embraced by some – a Chronicle of higher Ed piece details a mob by the name of textbook torrents that’s doing the biz:
One Web site, called Textbook Torrents, promises more than 5,000 textbooks for download in PDF format, complete with the original textbook layout and full-color illustrations. Users must simply set up a free account and download a free software program that uses a popular peer-to-peer system called BitTorrent. Other textbook-download sites are even easier to use, offering digital books at the click of a mouse.
What’s interesting is the response from authors and publishers, whose intent (if not deed) to date mirrors the Music Industry circa Napster (wow has it been almost a decade already!) :
So far the publishing group has not sought to take legal action against individual student downloaders, as the Recording Industry Association of America has done in its campaign to stamp out the illegal trading of music at colleges. The book-publishing group has not sought to shut down entire Web sites that offer downloads either, said Mr. McCoyd. Instead, officials are doing research on the extent of the problem and asking Web-site owners to remove individual files. “We’ve just tried to keep sweeping away these infringements as they continue to come online,” he said.
Far be it for me to suggest that the *desire* for students to access ebooks is an opportunity, not a crisis – and that a co-ordinated, affordable program of electronic textbook availability might actually be a good thing for all concerned (with an emphasis on affordable). I’ve had issues of supply with printed textbooks (nobody’s fault because course numbers can jump dramatically just prior to semester commencement dates) and I emphasise with students who have to jump through the hurdles of long lines outside the bookshop (yes, even in the 21st century), high prices and inconsistent usage of texts.