Downloading textbooks on the sly


Hugely expensive textbooks have helped fuel an online black market, where students are downloading books from file-sharing Web sites for free. Katie Macpherson reports.

Story on Marketplace from American Public Media


Personally I can confess to using the book scanner in Inter Library Loan to digitally pirate AACR2 in library school.

I bought my own copy and didn't break the law.

You are a thief.

I did infringe on copyright (not the same as being a thief), but that's what happens when you lock up your digital distribution in an expensive product like Cataloger's Desktop. I happily pay reduced prices for other digital assets (music, software), and I would have paid maybe $25 for a full-text pdf of AACR2. (Despite its clever organization, AACR2 is really just barely usable in paper, don't you think?)

I think you are a thief, but that is just me being generous. Stealing something worth $65 is a misdemeanor crime in my state, and in most areas as well. Violation of the Federal Law regrading copyright infringement is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of a quarter of a million dollars (17 U.S.C. § 101). So you would have been better off grabbing a copy and running off with it.

Your rationalization of your crime disgusts me. "[B]ut that's what happens when you lock up your digital distribution in an expensive product like Cataloger's Desktop"

You think it is OK to steal other people's work if it is expensive enough. A Yugo you would pay for but a Mercedes you think it is OK to steal because it is expensive?

You feel it is barely usable yet you went to the trouble of obtaining it illegally.

You are simply a criminal who has yet to be caught.

There's a lot that I could say in response here, but your comparison to automobiles leads me to think that we really just have fundamentally dissimilar notions of property, so it's probably better to leave us to our philosophical differences.

Though I'm sure that the RIAA would love to work with you to do something about every library patron with a personal computer who checks out music CDs.

You are a self-righteous prig on a high horse.

There is nothing that cannot be found offensive by someone, somewhere.

To steal a book is an elegant offense.
-Chinese saying of unknown provenance

It is also the title of a book: To Steal a Book Is an Elegant Offense: Intellectual Property Law in Chinese Civilization (Studies in East Asian Law, Harvard University)

I like the comment by the economics professor James V. Koch who says "the textbook market is broken. There's little competition and students often have no choice but to spend top dollar on required books. He wants to see schools develop alternatives like textbook rental systems. But that's not likely to happen."
Erm...libraries anyone?

you are talking about scale. The Library has a few copies, but do they have say 250 copies? If there are 250 students in a class and every student has to have a certain book then thats a demand for 250 books. If you take the Library route (or indeed any sort of textbook rental system - I'd assume this would be for a small charge, not free, so not like a library) there needs to be enough books to satisfy all students. And when the new edition comes out 250 copies of that.

Maybe the professor means something more along the lines of renting time with the book? Cost per number of pages read online? Of course it's partially up to the colleges in regards to what they say students MUST have a copy of in the first place!

Libraries, even academic libraries generally make it a policy to not stock textbooks.

I have taught both Chemistry and Anatomy and Physiology and there were required texts, not texts I selected but texts that the school selected, however I never required that students purchase the most current edition, or even purchase the book. I provided handouts and my tests were original, not selected from a question pool provided by the publishers.

The textbook problem can be solved if faculty, and institutions actually desire to do so, however the 'I wrote a chapter in this text book' mentality and the need to do so for tenure (which I oppose tenure is just an excuse to do no work) will exist for a long time as academic culture is slow to change.

Before I finished library school and became a librarian, I worked as a circ clerk at the reserves desk at the university library. It was amazing how many students simply assumed that the library would have a reserve copy of their course textbook available for check out. I would tell them the same thing every time..."We only have it if your professor put a copy on reserve; Ask him/her to do so."; Thanks to working there, I learned there are some high demand items that can ONLY be safely stored at the Reserves Desk, with tightly controlled circulation policies, because if put out on the stacks it is a virtual certainty they will "walk out the door". We already lost a GRE prep book that way this year because one of our staff forgot to flag it with a "Reserves" flag, stuck in a "Reference" flag instead. I duly cataloged it, and assigned it that location code. Off to Reference it went, and from thence out the door, never to be seen again. Truly amazing.

It would be unreasonable, and a waste of library resources, to acquire large numbers of copies of university textbooks, even if libraries charged a rental fee to help try and offset the costs. There are already private "book rental" agencies in my university town. It's not the sort of thing libraries should try to get into. Yes, textbooks are expensive, and I know students are on tight budgets. I wish Higher Ed in general was more grant-based rather than loan-based. But that's an issue students need to take up with their elected representatives. Professors can help by placing a sample copy or two on reserve, but with the caveat that students ought not depend on these high-demand reserve copies.

Illegal textbook scanning/copying is going to land students in the middle of an expensive copyright lawsuit that will make the original cost of their textbook look like peanuts by comparison...don't risk it!

Sidebar: I still consult my paper AACR2r2 and find it immanently usable.

When these scanned files get loaded to the web someone is going to get caught but if it is done at the local level it is going to be hard to police.

Hypothetical class with $100 text book. One student buys the book and scans it and then asks all the other students in the class to pay $10 for the file. If 20 people are in the class the person doing the scanning will make $100. (20 x $10=$200 - $100 (book cost) = $100)

But for future semesters this scanned file will be out there and students will pass it to their friends. Be curious to see what happens when college bookstores don't sell a single copy of certain textbooks because the pirated copy is floating around. Will the universities start to do a book check and make you bring your book to class and show that you own a legal paper copy?

Making and distributing copies of copyrighted works will get you arrested.

I know people that would turn people in if they did this. I am one of those people, I'll drop a dime on anyone who does this.

You might want to look at the statute I posted earlier, the penalties increase as the number of shared copies increases. If you do this and get caught you will be prosecuted.

We would love if you would try to find a new story about students being arrested for textbook piracy.

I tired, found some.

Factiva is your friend. However since it is a fee based DB you are going to have to look at your library since I am not violating the law and our contract to post them here.

Posting links to Factiva would not help as you would need my log in information.

Least you could do is say what school the arrest was at that you claim you found. Give us a few keywords to work with. I found one article about an arrest in the Philippines using a search with the keywords "arrest piracy textbooks". I also found articles about arrests in India but the operation was large scale and we are talking about a student being arrested. I found no articles about arrests for piracy in the U.S.

I used my work computer which has the Factiva user/pass combo saved so I can't recreate it today.

I think I used the term text book as the only things I found with textbook was non-US.

The story was not limited to book piracy as the investigation was started due to a data security breach - and possible grade changing. The pirated textbooks were a secondary finding.

Go kill yourself.

Advocating that someone commit suicide is pretty much a sin wherever you are. Matt is probably not the one in need of an intervention by mental health professionals right now. Hiding behind the tag of anonymous does not make you any less sick or creepy by even proposing suicide. Even suggesting that due to disagreement with someone is so beyond the pale that it merits wondering if there is something truly wrong with you to the point of perhaps requiring the attention of one or more medical professionals.

There is absolutely no justification EVER to even suggest someone commit suicide. If anything, you may need some help yourself if you are going to even do something as depraved as this. For your own sake, get help from either a minister or a therapist. In even bringing up a suggestion like this, you need such help desperately.
Stephen Michael Kellat, Host, LISTen
PGP KeyID: 899C131F

Wouldn't it fair to say that there are any number of things that are illegal that have a relatively low chance of being prosecuted? Like copying movies and tapes?

This is cute.

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