Free and illegal textbooks
Published: Thursday, August 28, 2008
Updated: Friday, November 2, 2012 17:11
With tuition prices rising along with the economy, purchasing textbooks should be the least of a student's worries. That's why so many students are resorting to downloading free (and often illegal) textbooks from various online sources.A survey conducted by Cengage Learning Inc., revealed that in any given month, 200 to 300 of the company's titles are posted illegally as free Internet downloads. Distributing books for free without permission, under United States Law, violates copyright laws and deprives publishers of revenue. Furthermore, textbooks aren't the only books that are being downloaded improperly.
A survey from the Association of American Publishers in New York done in May located about 1,100 titles available illegally online, including novels and books on current events.
Students are often hard-pressed to pay for academic books that can cost more than $100, three times the price of most other books.
These high prices put students under unnecessary pressure to find money to pay for their textbooks. It was only a matter of time before textbooks would be added to the list of illegally downloaded material.
As an alternative, some publishers have begun offering less expensive paperback versions of some titles, and are themselves selling many legal electronic editions over the Internet.
For example, McGraw Hill Companies, a major textbook vendor, offers most of its titles in electronic form, and at lower prices than printed editions. Normally, a McGraw Hill physics textbook would cost $135 in hardcover, but if a student downloads the electronic version, the cost is $80 - a total saving of $55.
Although publishing companies are trying to make textbook buying easier, many young people who are used to downloading music for free are easily drawn to the idea of doing the same with textbooks. Some of the illegal texts available online are copied e-books, while others are paper editions that have been painstakingly digitally uploaded page by page.
Other downloads come from file-hosting sites such as Scribd.com. The site is based in San Francisco and is backed by $3.7 million in funding from Redpoint Ventures. Scribd calls itself "The world's largest document-sharing community," and with 17 million visitors a month, there is certainly no reason for doubt. Besides Scribd.com, other illegal textbook distributing sites exist, including textbookrevolution.com.
The site is a student-run, volunteer-operated website that started in response to the textbook industry's constant drive to maximize profits instead of educational value. The site's mission is "to drive the adoption of free textbooks by teachers and professors. Our approach is to bring all of the free textbooks we can find together in one place, review them, and let the best rise to the top and find their way into the hands of students in classrooms around the world."
Textbook Revolution also encourages students to find a book on the site relevant to the course the student is taking, and then show the book to the professor to "let them know that there are top-quality alternatives to the overpriced bookstore editions. Textbook Revolution also states that, "All of the books are offered for free by their respective copyright holders for online viewing. Beyond that, each book is as individual as the author behind it."
Unlike the music recording industry, which has sued many individuals who downloaded pirated songs, book publishers haven't gone after readers who copy titles through the Internet. The trouble is that many online book swappers are based in countries like China and Russia, where the U.S. copyright law has little effect.
Publishers are pressuring websites that distribute the files to stop, but the problem doesn't seem to be coming to an end. According to Ed McCoyd, director of digital policy at the Association of American Publishers in New York, "You whack one down and another one pops up.