Steal This Textbook

eBook “piracy” had become an increasing concern for the publishing industry in recent days.   Most bestsellers show up on the torrent sites pretty quickly.

The proprietary content publishers are entirely justified in being afraid.  We’re going to kill them, and display their rotting corpses on our battlements.

On the P2P Research email list, Andy Robinson speculated on why this phenomenon hadn’t yet expanded to include most academic books and articles.  Why don’t the pdfs you buy from J-STOR wind up on torrent sites?  Why don’t people scan them in, for that matter?

Andy speculates it’s the relatively small potential readership, and the comparative ease for people in the academic community to obtain them via library J-STOR subscriptions or Interlibrary Loan.

Probably right.

What I wonder about, though, is college textbooks.  it seems to me that there’d be a major demand for pirated versions given the absolutely monstrous copyright markups, and the deliberately crooked gimmicks used to circumvent competition in the used book market.   Textbook authors introduce the most minor modifications each year, and then assign their own books (and their buddies’ books) as required reading.

The cost of scanning would be much lower, under these circumstances, given the possibility of a modular approach:   just scanning the new material that publishers tweak old textbooks with each year.  And a single download site catering to college students would probably have very high traffic.

The main obstacle would probably be finding a secure host in a country where the DMCA isn’t enforced.  And once torrent files were uploaded, they’d probably be widely duplicated and circulated by other student communities, including via darknets and “sneakernet.”  All the proprietary content industries floundering around with lame policies like pressuring ISPs to disconnect file-sharers is about as effective as a far in a high wind.  All they do is drive encryption and anonymization into the mainstream, so that the portion of the population that appears on the ISPs’ radars shrinks like the dot on an old-fashioned picture tube.

If this happened I would absolutely rupture myself laughing at it.  The way things are now, I find the local University library constantly plastered over with RIAA “Did You Know?” agitprop aimed at “educating” students about the dangers of “stealing” music.  But imagine if the campus were actually owned by the RIAA.  That’s pretty much what the reaction will be when students are sharing pirated textbooks and depriving the faculty of their $150 cover price?

The campus security crackdown in response would probably look like Romania in the last days of Ceaucescu–and with pretty much the same results.

So why aren’t there yet high-traffic torrent sites with “pirated” texts for freshman and sophomore courses, especially college requirements? Speaking ex cathedra from my armchair, as someone with absolutely no geek cred or tech skills whatever, I sure hope someone gets right on it.

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