As eBooks and eBook readers become more and more commonplace, there has been growing anticipation that digital textbooks will be the next big thing on college campuses. With some students hoping to beat the high cost textbooks by renting digital versions of textbooks, a group called the Library Pirates say they can unlock rental books and plan to distribute them online for free.
Here’s how the scheme, called Hire-a-Pirate, works. A student, or a group of students, rents a textbook from an eBook distributor. These are usually sold at discounted rates, and are only accessible for a preset time — a semester, a quarter, etc. — at different price points. Once purchased, the buyer of the book sends the download info to Library Pirates who nab the book and strip it of its DRM. Reformed into a free and permanent PDF, the pirates make the book available via torrent to the purchaser(s). Oh, and anyone else that happens to want it.
This is only one of the tools Library Pirates are offering to make more textbooks available for free online. In addition to their already voluminous library of torrents, they’ve also released a photo application that automatically crops and resizes photographs of textbooks. Their goal is to turn any camera into a book-scanner, and they claim a dedicated student can scan an entire 500-page book in under two hours.
Of course, what the Library Pirates are up to is out and out copyright infringement. As quoted by the TorrentFreak blog, the group makes it clear that their goal is torpedo a textbook system they see as corrupt by cutting publisher’s cash flow. It’s true that the price of textbooks is ridiculously high for a lowly student, and many students do find themselves locked in situations where they have no choice but shell out big bucks for required texts. However, I’m curious to know what would replace the current system were it to actually collapse. Printing is, after all, a fairly expensive undertaking, and authors still have to be paid for their work. True, there have been some inroads made with free, open-source texts and free textbooks, but they haven’t seen widespread adoption.
Given that a 2010 poll found that eBooks for college classes weren’t popular, this isn’t likely to put much pressure on publishers just yet. Of course, that could all change very quickly.
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