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Old 10-10-2008, 08:21 PM   #1
Alexander Turcic
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Textbook Torrents says final goodbye

Remember Textbook Torrents? A few months ago they were forced to shut down after receiving complaints from publishers for distributing torrents of textbook files -- only to reopen shortly after. Well, apparently textbook publishing oligopolists have now laid down the smack on the torrent site operator himself. According to TorrentFreak:

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Geekman [admin of Textbook Torrents] told us that he felt that when it became clear to the copyright owners that simple threats to the site and its host wouldn’t be sufficient to close down the tracker, he himself became the next logical target: “We got word from several credible sources that there was a lawsuit in the works against myself personally,” he explained.

Geekman told us that he was sorry to have to shut down the site without notice, but in the absence of others immediately stepping up to take over the running of the site, he had no alternative. He also said that he was disappointed that nobody stepped in with a replacement site when TextBook Torrents was down for 3 weeks in August, but hopes that someone will do so now.
Textbook Torrents is gone, but the last time I checked, Piratebay was still offering torrents of pirated e-books. Shutting down individual sites is not going to help solve the problem of piracy. It's merely shifts Internet traffic to another place. What we need to begin with is more transparency in textbook pricing. Well, and perhaps some affordable larger-format e-book devices.

Thanks to Danny for the news!
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Old 10-10-2008, 10:54 PM   #2
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Textbook piracy. I'm always torn between two opinions. On the one hand, we have intellectual property rights. On the other, the ridiculous publishers jacking up prices every year and coming out with new edition so you don't have a used option. (Or a way to get back some of what you spent.)

I almost never feel it's okay to steal, but textbook publishers sure muddy the issue.
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Old 10-11-2008, 04:54 AM   #3
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I almost never feel it's okay to steal, but textbook publishers sure muddy the issue.
As a (former) textbook author myself, I am well aware of the economics of their publication. Believe me, you are NEVER going to see $10 textbooks. There are two reasons for this:

1. Textbooks are extremely expensive to produce compared to fiction. They generally have highly-complex layouts, and require much more careful editing. Reputable textbook publishers generally send proofs out to independent experts in the field for checking. All this costs a great deal of money.

2. The market for textbooks is very small compared to fiction. A sold-out print run of 10,000 copies would be pathetic for any fiction book - the same sales would have a textbook publishers throwing a party.

These two factors combined are why textbooks are, and will continue to be, expensive. Stealing them isn't the answer.
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Old 10-11-2008, 06:28 AM   #4
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Another (legal) way to fight against outrages textbook prices: textbookrevolt.
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Old 10-11-2008, 09:05 AM   #5
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Another (legal) way to fight against outrages textbook prices: textbookrevolt.
Won't that just cause less sales for the publishers, and make them raise the price next year? Current users of textbookrevolt will pay less, but will make the next year's buyers pay more. So it's really some buyers taking money from later buyers.
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Old 10-11-2008, 10:14 AM   #6
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Won't that just cause less sales for the publishers, and make them raise the price next year? Current users of textbookrevolt will pay less, but will make the next year's buyers pay more. So it's really some buyers taking money from later buyers.
If the project was large enough, it probably would, at least initially. The other feedback loop I notice, though, is the pressure to get textbooks from non-traditional sources as traditional sources become more financially prohibitive.

Since these two loops work against each other, in a closed system I'd anticipate that an optimal or sustainable compromise would be reached. However, as I've mentioned before, with the explosion of internet technology and the increasing opportunity for educators to compile and distribute their own textbooks cheaply and legally, I'm growing doubtful about the survival of the traditional textbook industry, at least in a form that would be recognisable to us now.

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Old 10-11-2008, 11:31 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
These two factors combined are why textbooks are, and will continue to be, expensive. Stealing them isn't the answer.
yeah, I know you're right. I'm just torn.

More than the high price, the forced obsolescence every 2 years is what really gets me.
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Old 10-11-2008, 11:33 AM   #8
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yeah, I know you're right. I'm just torn.

More than the high price, the forced obsolescence every 2 years is what really gets me.
That certainly doesn't apply to all fields. My physics textbooks were in use for many years.
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Old 10-11-2008, 12:00 PM   #9
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That certainly doesn't apply to all fields. My physics textbooks were in use for many years.
My father's mathematical textbooks are also in use by myself now. So 20-30 years for really good textbook is not that much (in some fields). But current prices (hundreds of $ sometimes) is too much for a textbook.
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Old 10-11-2008, 05:34 PM   #10
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Cost Justifes Theft?

If I live to be a thousand, I'll never understand the argument that piracy is somehow justified if someone disagrees about what's being charged for a product. We don't own a product until we have paid for it, whether it's a diamond ring, a shirt, a DVD, or a book. It doesn't belong to us and we don't have any right to it. Would we shoplift if we thought the price of an article of clothing was too high? Hopefully not.

Nor is it is not up to you or me to set the price of the products we wish to own. We either agree to buy something at a certain price, and then we own it, or we disagree about the price and don't buy it...and don't own it. That's real life. The alternative is, and should be, a fat fine or time in jail.
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Old 10-11-2008, 06:18 PM   #11
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If I live to be a thousand, I'll never understand the argument that piracy is somehow justified if someone disagrees about what's being charged for a product. We don't own a product until we have paid for it, whether it's a diamond ring, a shirt, a DVD, or a book. It doesn't belong to us and we don't have any right to it. Would we shoplift if we thought the price of an article of clothing was too high? Hopefully not.

Nor is it is not up to you or me to set the price of the products we wish to own. We either agree to buy something at a certain price, and then we own it, or we disagree about the price and don't buy it...and don't own it. That's real life. The alternative is, and should be, a fat fine or time in jail.
I mostly agree with you but there is another side of the coin in the case of textbooks in that the purchaser has no alternatives.

If a piece of clothing is too expensive, you have the choice to by another piece of clothing that is less expensive and serves the same function (or buy the expensive clothing at an outlet store when it's out of season). If you are a student in a physics class that is taught with a specific text book, you can't buy another less expensive physics textbook and still do the class work. You can't even buy a used version of the book because some slight change forces you to purchase the most current version. There is no choice.

Now, if you could buy the used textbook and download the updated pages for a small fee, you might be less tempted to purchase a pirated version.

I'm glad I'm not in school.
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Old 10-11-2008, 06:37 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vrf View Post
yeah, I know you're right. I'm just torn.

More than the high price, the forced obsolescence every 2 years is what really gets me.
The forced obsolescence may have far less to do with the book itself, and far more to do with the whims of the professor or institution.

I recall at least one case where a book was required for a course that had nothing whatsoever to do with the coursework, but was required because the professor had written it and could boost sales by making it a requisite for students taking his class.
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Old 10-11-2008, 07:00 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by dsuden View Post
If I live to be a thousand, I'll never understand the argument that piracy is somehow justified if someone disagrees about what's being charged for a product. We don't own a product until we have paid for it, whether it's a diamond ring, a shirt, a DVD, or a book. It doesn't belong to us and we don't have any right to it. Would we shoplift if we thought the price of an article of clothing was too high? Hopefully not.

Nor is it is not up to you or me to set the price of the products we wish to own. We either agree to buy something at a certain price, and then we own it, or we disagree about the price and don't buy it...and don't own it. That's real life. The alternative is, and should be, a fat fine or time in jail.
May I put it to you, Dsuden, that those who could be interested in justifying piracy would suggest an examination of the definition of ownership and stealing? The product being acquired in the case of TextbookTorrents was the information content of the textbooks (assuming that they were not subsequently printed and sold, which I think is safe enough for me to do, here). The act of downloading in and of itself makes no impact on the current stock of printed textbooks or the availability of those that have been printed for those who wish to buy them. They have not been physically stolen away; there has not been a discrete loss. There has been a digital duplication.

Assuming that the downloader is a student who would otherwise have purchased the book containing the information in question, the situation could be seen as follows: the authors' time and effort, and the publishers' time, effort, and production costs, would not have been rewarded by the downloading student. No money has been actually taken away from the publisher or the author by this act of downloading; the bank accounts, like the physical stock of product, remain unchanged. Similarly, if a library has purchased a copy of the textbook, after the initial payment, no changes would occur to the bank accounts mentioned above regardless of how many times the information content of the product was accessed, or whether more than one person was using the book at the same time. This example compromises the direct connection between the price demanded by the publisher (ostensibly to offset the cost of production and build capital with which to finance future productions) and the access to the information content of the book (which, again, is the only thing that the downloaders are actually doing).

The perception of wrong-doing to the textbook publishers is, I would hypothesize, a result of this duplication reducing the demand:supply ratio. Where a potential buyer discovers that a needed product can be acquired more cheaply, or entirely gratis, the selling power of the publisher is reduced appropriately, as is the financial safety/motivation of the publisher's dependents (the authors and contributors to the publication of the book). I think this ratio shift also occurs, however, whenever the publisher decides on the MSRP of a given book, whenever a book is discovered to be available for use in a library, whenever a review influences a professor's decision about which book to use for her course readings, among others (many arbitrary). In and of itself, I don't think one needs to ascribe a moral signature the fact that a potential buyer, rather than anyone else in particular, is causing the ratio to shift in his favour.

If your definition of stealing is simply "taking that which does not belong to you," to account for the complexity of this situation, you need to specify when the act of taking has occurred: is it when you gain access to the book, when you gain access to the information content of the book, when you've mastered the information content of the book, when the book has moved from its place on the shelves of the university bookstore onto your person and subsequently into your private book collection? I don't think that the reading of a book which you haven't paid for is universally censured yet (the fear of such a development motivates me to resist DRM). May I ask what your definition of stealing is, assuming that it's more refined than the straw-man example I've just used?

- Danny

Last edited by Danny Fekete; 10-11-2008 at 07:03 PM.
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Old 10-11-2008, 07:16 PM   #14
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No money has been actually taken away from the publisher or the author by this act of downloading; the bank accounts, like the physical stock of product, remain unchanged. Similarly, if a library has purchased a copy of the textbook, after the initial payment, no changes would occur to the bank accounts mentioned above regardless of how many times the information content of the product was accessed, or whether more than one person was using the book at the same time.
None of this justifies violating the copyright. It is the same as xeroxing a book in the library. You can't do it because it is a copyright violation. You don't have the RIGHT or permissions to copyright it.

I'm not sure if you are saying that the above is ok, or just playing devils advocate, but I would say I wholeheartedly disagree with you.

What if while you were on vacation I came into your house and stayed there for the two weeks you were gone. I slept in your bed... watched your cable, used your phone, your toilet, your shower, etc? Since it didn't cost you anything... no money was taken from your bank account because you still had to pay your mortgage, phone bill, water bill, etc even if I wasn't then there is nothing wrong with this, right?

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Old 10-11-2008, 07:19 PM   #15
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If you are a student in a physics class that is taught with a specific text book, you can't buy another less expensive physics textbook and still do the class work. You can't even buy a used version of the book because some slight change forces you to purchase the most current version. There is no choice.
You choose what university to attend, what courses to take. I assume during this research you checked the price of credits hours, room and board. By comitting to attend the university you are agreeing to certain things. By registering a course you are basically agreeing to getting the materials. Actually, you have a choice to not get the book. You might have trouble in the course if you do this though... but you certainly do have a choice. Violating the text books copyright is still wrong.

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