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DRM Books Businesses Education The Almighty Buck

$200 For a Bound Textbook That You Can't Keep? 252

Posted by Soulskill
from the because-textbook-buyers-have-had-it-too-good-for-too-long dept.
netbuzz writes: "The worst of DRM is set to infest law school casebooks. One publisher, AspenLaw, wants students to pay $200 for a bound casebook, but at the end of class they have to give it back. Aspen is touting this arrangement as a great deal because the buyer will get an electronic version and assorted online goodies once they return the actual book. But they must return the book. Law professors and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are calling it nothing but a cynical attempt to undermine used book sales, as well as the first sale doctrine that protects used bookstores and libraries."
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$200 For a Bound Textbook That You Can't Keep?

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  • Because they can. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @06:16PM (#46944019)

    They aren't in it to make the world a better place. They are in it for the money. And so it is perfectly logical for them to take as much as they can get.

    Vote with your wallet.

    • by epyT-R (613989) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @06:17PM (#46944031)

      yes, except most universities will go along with it and force would be students to buy the books under those conditions or not go into law. This requires more than just voting with wallets.

      • Re:Because they can. (Score:4, Informative)

        by GodInHell (258915) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @06:41PM (#46944225) Homepage
        The law school I am familiar with leaves the choice of text up to the prof. Some of them will avoid these textbooks because of the ethical challenges, some won't. Of course, my school also ran its own bookstore and probably made quite a lot of profit off reselling used books, so there's that too. On the other hand $200.00 is not very much for a law school text.
        • by fractoid (1076465)
          What are the conflict-of-interest rules for the prof? I'd imagine that the textbook company will be applying any and every legal incentive for the prof to make their book mandatory.
          • by hubie (108345)
            I don't know how it is in law school, but professors get a free copy of the textbook(s) ("professor's or teacher's edition"), and perhaps support material. They get unsolicited texts mailed to them in hope that they'll be used in their course. Some don't give it a second thought and go with the path of least resistance. I did have a few who (younger, and closer to remembering their student days) purposely didn't use the latest edition, or didn't use one at all and pulled bits and pieces out of a number o
          • Re:Because they can. (Score:5, Informative)

            by BitZtream (692029) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @02:57AM (#46946967)

            heh, do you realize how many professors require books THEY wrote? Conflict of interest isn't high on the list of priorities to worry about.

            • I can't speak for big name schools or law schools, and this is purely anecdotal evidence. But in my experience, books written by professors who teach the class are the cheaper ones and are the only books that come close to being completely useful. Those are also the professors who are better teachers as they're invested in the course rather than just fulfilling an obligation.
        • On the other hand $200.00 is not very much for a law school text.

          Not very much? Sounds like an awful lot for a book. The most I've ever paid for a college textbook (studying E.E. at a Dutch university) was about $75. I know that legal reference texts can be expensive as they often span multiple volumes (a subscription to Dutch jurisprudence can run close to 5 figures a year), but I don't see why simple textbooks for use in law school should be that expensive.

      • Pfft. I've done a law degree and I rarely bought the books. When I did, I almost never read them. Still did pretty well. View with your mouse instead of your wallet, because everything's online these days.
      • by Xicor (2738029)
        and most universities dont stop you from torrenting your books either.
      • Re:Because they can. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by roc97007 (608802) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @08:38PM (#46945061) Journal

        yes, except most universities will go along with it and force would be students to buy the books under those conditions or not go into law. This requires more than just voting with wallets.

        Photocopier. And yes it may be technically illegal. But sometimes a little civil disobedience is necessary. In fact, as a law student, you could make that your thesis.

        Unbind the book, it saves time. Then re-bind the book or just hand back a stack of loose-leaf -- your choice.

        • by AudioEfex (637163) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @11:48PM (#46946293)

          That actually leads to my question about this - what if you lose it? What if you get robbed, what if you are just forgetful and leave it somewhere, what if your dog eats it....

          There are a million things that could happen. The article makes it clear that you can mark it up, highlight it, etc. do whatever you want to it - they don't care about the condition, just want it back after. So do they charge you a penalty for not returning this obviously used item that seems destined to be destroyed? Do you have to sign a contract to do so? It seems to me that there must be some penalty there, which they would have a really hard time justifying if challenged - I mean, how much is a used, beat-up book worth?

          I also had to kind of giggle at the "lifetime access" to their digital version - I'd want that one in writing, with a refund policy, so in a few years after this doesn't work and they shut down the website, folks would have recourse.

          The whole thing is just so shady. The whole textbook business is, really. Just an industry based around exploiting those already being exploited and signing away their possible future earnings to get an education and a chance at bettering themselves starting life in debt.

          I was lucky - I went to a college that didn't really use textbooks. We had plenty of books, probably many more than the average class at most schools (8-10 books a class wasn't odd), but very few "textbooks" proper - I don't think any of my classes required one - the science or math kids may have used some workbooks, but I went to a private college that didn't believe in such things and I count myself lucky. It was also small enough that the professors and other students kind of knew who could and couldn't afford the required texts and were completely supportive of sharing, reserve shelves (in fact, just about everything was on a reserve shelf if someone really needed) and any other methods we had to use - because it's the learning that's important, stupid, LOL, not supporting various corporate profit interests.

        • Re:Because they can. (Score:5, Informative)

          by Bushcat (615449) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @12:28AM (#46946485)
          In my neck of the woods, educational institutions are legally allowed to break copyright for educational purposes. So it's fine to take one book and photocopy it a bazillion times. Result is that most books are cheaper than photocopying. It also means found web assets can be incorporated into teaching materials without the hassle of clearing copyright.
          • This is intriguing. Can the web resources at least claim fair compensation, or do they get nothing in return? What if the web resource is "protected" and the educational resource has to break additional laws (hacking) to get to the content? I'm no big advocate for the current model of copyright law, but exempting educational use completely from it breaks the rest of the model and a lot of the rest of the legal system as well if you're not very careful with that. Please elaborate how this is being done.
    • Well, on the other hand it's not like the law is like an Android Development Textbook where the contents of said textbook will actually have any relevance next year...
    • by RDW (41497) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @06:24PM (#46944081)

      They aren't in it to make the world a better place. They are in it for the money. And so it is perfectly logical for them to take as much as they can get.

      The publishers, or the students aiming to become lawyers..?

    • Vote with your wallet.

      Seems like my wallet doesn't cast the vote it once did - and I own a mansion and a yacht.

  • Is this like a fatwallet hot deal ymmv?

  • One can only hope... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @06:23PM (#46944073)

    That this will create a generation of lawyers and judges who have a fundamental hatred of DRM.

    • by Jawnn (445279)

      That this will create a generation of lawyers and judges who have a fundamental hatred of DRM.

      This assumes that lawyers (and the judges some of them often become) will be driven by something other than money. Sucker bet, that one.

      • That this will create a generation of lawyers and judges who have a fundamental hatred of DRM.

        This assumes that lawyers (and the judges some of them often become) will be driven by something other than money. Sucker bet, that one.

        In the U.S., my impression is that few judges are driven by money. I hope I'm right.

        • by dltaylor (7510)

          In many places judges must run for election, re-election, or, at least, confirmation (California Supreme Court, for example).

          Campaigns cost money.

          It is a bit of a tossup whether the law enforcement endorsements (any criminal court judge that has, or seeks, one is, IMO, already in a conflict of interest situation) or their money is more important, though.

        • In the U.S., my impression is that few judges are driven by money. I hope I'm right.

          I wonder, are there many poor judges?

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      Doesn't work. Most people against marijuana have tried it with no ill effects. Exposure doesn't affect future opinions. Irrational, but true.
    • They will respect the way that DRM has used the law to relieve them from their money. Since they want to make money, they will have learned how creative use of DRM can do that, so they will try and find ways to work for DRM companies.
  • by uCallHimDrJ0NES (2546640) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @06:23PM (#46944075)
    How will we change the past if we let these kids keep paper books, eh, comrades?
  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @06:26PM (#46944087)
    I would be laughing at law students and law teachers and lawyers in general, if I didn't know they'd "recoup" that money by screwing me later.
  • by ActionDesignStudios (877390) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @06:27PM (#46944091)
    I've been looking into going back to school and have gotten a more in-depth look at the academic textbook market and I can conclude it is all a big racket. The price of textbooks is already outrageous as it is -- I don't doubt that they would love to DRM all of them and have students give them back afterwards. Even after looking into the used textbook market, I couldn't find a way to save very much and the price they'll give you for a used but still in very good condition book is almost insulting. You would think we would want to make education more accessible and affordable for everyone, but between textbooks, student loans and other like scams it is a sad state of affairs.
    • by tylikcat (1578365) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @06:52PM (#46944335)

      I keep having conversations with my students where I explain why they shouldn't pirate books, or at least should make sure that the authors are getting paid (for instance, buying a legal copy then pirating / cracking it if it has DRM to get a useful one.) ...and yet I have a lot of trouble trying to work up enthusiasm for telling them not to pirate textbooks.* Particularly problematic, as I've shown a few how to torrent. (Heck, I've shown faculty members how to torrent.)

      * As opposed to professional reference books.

      • I keep having conversations with my students where I explain why they shouldn't pirate books, or at least should make sure that the authors are getting paid (for instance, buying a legal copy then pirating / cracking it if it has DRM to get a useful one.) ...and yet I have a lot of trouble trying to work up enthusiasm for telling them not to pirate textbooks.* Particularly problematic, as I've shown a few how to torrent. (Heck, I've shown faculty members how to torrent.)

        * As opposed to professional reference books.

        I'm not a big fan of copyright infringement, but I do wonder why you would pay good money for something you're going to have to break the law to use rather than just breaking the law to use it without paying first...

        • by geekoid (135745)

          Ethics. He ants the author t get something.
          I only assume he has never stepped foot into a library.

          • Ethics. He ants the author t get something.
            I only assume he has never stepped foot into a library.

            If the author wants to get paid, they can surely produce a product that can sensibly be used without breaking the law...

        • by tylikcat (1578365)

          Last I head, the applicability of laws relating to whether transfer of medium for personal use had not been tested for ebooks. (Not, I'll admit, that I'd hold my breath for a good outcome in the current climate regarding such things.)

          The problem of course is that I do seed torrents.

  • by Mr_Silver (213637) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @06:31PM (#46944109)

    Whilst it might not be for everyone, here I am sitting at my PC looking at my Computer Science books (purchased between 1995 and 1998) and I don't think I've opened any of them in the past 10 years (looking at you "Unix System Programming" by Haviland and Salama, reprinted in 1994).

    If I get a DRM free digital version after the course has ended and the pricing is right, then this might actually be more useful than a pile of dead wood taking up space on my bookshelf - most of which is probably long out of date.

    • They are forcing the students to return the books, and you think the electronic version is going to be DRM-free? Ha!

    • by vux984 (928602)

      Whilst it might not be for everyone, here I am sitting at my PC looking at my Computer Science books (purchased between 1995 and 1998)

      I've referred to my calculus text several times over the years, along with my discrete and combinatorial mathematics stuff.

      For CS specifically, I've got a big white Algorithms and data structures book, "A book on C", a couple on relational databases and relational calculus, and a book on design patterns, and a book on complexity theory I've referred to.

      Sure I recently sent my

  • If the schools / banks where on the hook for default then they will push back on stuff like this.

    maybe not the schools / teachers as some get so much per book and they put out a new edition each year or more often all the time.

    and it's not just law school.

  • have bothered to research the law.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B... [wikipedia.org]

    Some other publisher attempted to impose a license upon the books they sold and were slapped down over a century ago.

    • by l2718 (514756)
      But they don't have to sell the books. They can just lend them for a fee, and that would be perfectly legal.
    • You'd think that a law publisher would have bothered to research the law.

      Not if it's a Slashdot law book! ;)

    • by Obfuscant (592200)

      Some other publisher attempted to impose a license upon the books they sold and were slapped down over a century ago.

      If you read the citation you provided, you'd find this information therein:

      Bobbs-Merrill Company sold a copyrighted novel, The Castaway by Hallie Erminie Rives, with the notice, "The price of this book at retail is $1 net. No dealer is licensed ..." printed immediately below the copyright notice.

      I.e., a shrink-wrap license.

      The court did not hold that a contract or license imposed on the first sale could not create an obligation. In this case, there was no contract between the owner and the original purcha

  • by l2718 (514756) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @06:36PM (#46944153)

    A manufacturer is attempting to circumvent the secondary market by only lending its products instead of selling them. This isn't an end run around the "first sale" principle exactly because the publisher doesn't plan to sell the books in the first place.

    What they are trying to do should be legal -- but hopefully it won't work because professors will refuse to assign this textbooks.

    • by bobbied (2522392)

      it won't work because professors will refuse to assign this textbooks.

      Oh it will work, who do you think WRITES the books? Yea, you guessed it, the professors write the books....

      I have a number of college books on my book shelf that where written by the professor who taught the course, or by his boss. I even had one professor who made a big deal out of the fact that he wrote the book and that you needed to keep it forever. I bought a used copy and sold it as soon as I could...

      • by l2718 (514756) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @08:30PM (#46944983)
        I'm a professor, actually. In two words, you're wrong . If the book is only used in the class of the professor who taught it, the book will go out of print in a jiffy, and in any case the total harm to a single class of students is negligible. For a book to actually stay in print, many professors in many universities must use it. In this case very few will, and the problem will solve itself.
    • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @07:42PM (#46944665)

      This isn't an end run around the "first sale" principle exactly because the publisher doesn't plan to sell the books in the first place.

      That sounds like an end run to me. When something looks like a sale, feels like a sale, and smells like a sale, it should behave like a sale, including all of the rights and privileges associated with ownership. And at those prices, this sure as hell looks like a purchase to me, rather than a rental. Unfortunately, we live in a world where the very idea of ownership is being undermined by EULAs, licenses that can be rescinded at any time, and moves like what AspenLaw is doing here. How long until the first sale doctrine stops applying to any form of media at all, regardless of whether it's digital or physical?

      • by Obfuscant (592200) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @08:53PM (#46945153)
        I go to a car dealer and hand him a small bucket of money. He hands me the keys to a car. I pay a certain sum every month. After a couple of years I get to keep the car.

        But wait! There was a contract that said I was only leasing the car. I have to give it back. Other than that piece of paper, the transaction looked like a sale, felt like a sale and smelled like a sale. That would make it a sale, right? I don't think the courts would agree.

        I pay a fellow a "down payment" for the keys to an apartment. I pay him a certain amount every month. After 20 years I own the apartment outright, yes? (That's longer than many mortgages.) Looked like a sale, smelled etc... but I signed a paper that says it was only a rental.

        I go to a mall. I hand money to a fellow behind a counter and he hands me a pair of shoes. That smells like etc. I go to a bowling alley, hand some money to the guy behind the counter and he hands me a pair of shoes. But that's not a sale?

        Unfortunately, we live in a world where the very idea of ownership is being undermined by EULAs, licenses that can be rescinded at any time, and moves like what AspenLaw is doing here.

        They're being quite up-front in their terms. It's not a surprise at the end of the term to find out the book has to be returned. Do car leases, apartment or house rentals, or the existence of lending libraries also undermine the concept of ownership, or are they simply alternatives to outright ownership?

        • by gl4ss (559668)

          a car lease certainly feels different than buying a car. even if you're comparing buying on partial payment(with a big pre sum as you're implying with the bucket).

          but if the book is sitting on the shelf.. and the student goes and grabs it and takes to the till and walks home.. but yeah, it's unlikely to go down that way, since more likely the book is forcibly sold/rented to the students while they sit at class and it is told to them to rent the book or fail the class for not renting the book.

          now, in a situ

        • When I lease a car, I pay less than if I were paying off a loan. I can also offset any concern of depreciation at the end of the lease period by selecting a new car and making any appropriate payment adjustments. If I really like the car, I can buy out of the lease. Can I do any of that with this textbook?

          When I rent an apartment, I don't have to worry about maintenance, renovations or yard work. That's the landlord's job. What's in it for me when I pay $200 for a book that I don't own?

          When I rent bowl

        • by sir-gold (949031)

          Car leasing is a contract between you and the owner, and part of the terms of the contract states that you have to return the car at the end of the lease. You aren't returning the car because it's a lease, you are returning it because you signed a document stating that you agreed to return it (or face predefined penalties)

          The only way this could apply to books is if the bookstore required you to sign some sort of legal document before giving you the book.

        • Other than that piece of paper, the transaction looked like a sale, felt like a sale and smelled like a sale.

          That's where you and I differ. Regardless of the paper, I don't think your examples look, feel, or smell like sales at all. Consider what a purchase normally looks like: money changes hands and a buyer takes ownership. In that order. Moreover, it's not just a random amount of money that gets paid: it's an amount of money equal to the value of the item.

          In the case of your car lease, few people would confuse your "small bucket of money" for the actual price of the car, which could very well be an order of mag

        • You come up with valid rent/lease constructions that by themselves don't feel a whole lot different from sales constructions. However, all the examples you give, come from markets where you have multiple options to buy the exact same product and also have an established market for lease/rent constructions.

          While there are text book rental constructions, these do feel, present and act very differently compared to a sales construction. Not only that, you can get the same books "for keep" if you buy them, usua

  • by l2718 (514756) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @06:39PM (#46944193)
    As a university faculty member I consider the cost of textbooks whenever I choose one for a course. I try to never require students to buy the book (I'm not always in charge of the course I teach, so I can't always do this), and I prefer books that are available on SpringerLink [springer.com] (whole-book DRM-free PDFs are available to all our students since our university subscribes). I doubt many faculty members will actually assign this textbook.
  • by ickleberry (864871) <web@pineapple.vg> on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @06:43PM (#46944249) Homepage
    Expect scanned and even perfectly good text copies of this book to be on all good torrent sites around the time it's supposed to be released
  • Well they took page outta their book with these DRM.
  • Where they force you to rent the box at price over 1-2 years that can add up to it's real bulk price.

    Also if you have lost, not returned, burned up in a fire they want the full price of a new box.

    and you can't buy the box or use one that was not returned and one that someone even payed the full price for.

    • by bobbied (2522392)

      Not true. By law they MUST allow you to use your own tuner and can only charge you a small monthly fee for the CABLE CARD you need to decode their encrypted signals. Silicon Dust sells such tuners, as does a number of "cable card ready" TV makers. You can even get DVR devices to do this too.

      Don't rent from the cable company... Shesh.. But I guess folks cannot afford to buy $500 worth of equipment all at once just to watch cable, so they pay though the nose by the month and never own anything..

      • still have to rent the cable card and some systems even or used make you pay for the tuning adapter for SDV systems.

        and that cable card rent can add up.

        I think that Service Electric was one of the few system that let you / still does let you BUY IT FOR about $125. Others make you pay $3-$5+ mo to rent it.

        http://www.sectv.com/aspEquipC... [sectv.com]

        Purchase CableCARD for a one-time fee of $125.00 and receive a one-year warranty on the CableCARD from the manufacture so you never have to worry about rental fees again!

      • by sir-gold (949031)

        This assumes that your request for a CableCARD results in something besides a blank stare, followed by "what's a cable card?"

  • When I was a computer savvy high school student back in 1994, I was fed up with having to lug 60 pounds of books to and from school every day (we had lockers, but weren't allowed to use them). It seemed like a really trivial concept to provide PDF documents of the books to those students who opted in. Hand me a CD at the beginning of the term and be done with it.

    Here we are, some 20 years later, and the idea has still never been done in a reasonable way. The only logical conclusion is that educators are si

    • by eulernet (1132389)

      Using technology is not a good idea, because it's fragile.

      Students are not careful with their material, so paper books are much more robust than LCD screens.

    • by sir-gold (949031)

      I would imagine most teachers wouldn't want to be staring at a sea of laptop lids and backlit faces.
      PDF books might make sense in a computer class where there is already a screen in front of you, but in my experience, people tend to goof-off and not pay attention when they have their laptop in front of them.

      Some of the classrooms at my college have windows in the back of the room, facing the hallway. Every time I walk past one of those rooms, every single laptop screen has facebook on it, while the teacher

      • by pspahn (1175617)

        Sure, okay. Granted, when I had the idea, you could still register pretty much most generic nouns as a domain name, though, what's to stop a student from just printing out the few pages they might need in class? That way you could take notes on the material itself without having to worry about paying for the book.

  • It's the universities and teachers who choose what books the students must use. They could:

    1) Boycott this publisher.
    2) Act indifferently.
    3) Enthusiastically join with this publisher.

    Follow the money. I'm guessing it will be 2) or 3) above, depending on the deal the publisher strikes with the university.

    • by arth1 (260657)

      It's the universities and teachers who choose what books the students must use.

      When and where I went t school, the universities and teachers couldn't tell you that you had to use any book. They would tell you which book covered the curriculum as taught, and you were free to pick any book you wanted that could ensure that you got the questions right. That would normally be the recommmended books, but some chose to go with 1-2 year old books to save money, and some who took the class just to get a rubber stamp on what they already knew, went bookless.

      • mmm, I think I bought one textbook (and a few books on techincal subjects not directly related to my degree) during my whole time as an undergrad in the UK (electronic systems engineering at manchester), between good quality lecture handouts and a good library buying books just wasn't needed most of the time.

  • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @07:55PM (#46944735)
    My grad school forbade reselling case books, arguing that they were licensed not sold. If you put up a for sale sign on a campus bulletin board it got taken done. So we simply had an underground market as well as simply shared the books. Interestingly enough, while researching an article on the doctrine of first sale I learned it is not as black and white as some would think it is; with lots of variations state to state as well as defining what constitutes a sale.
  • Law School is a huge profit center, as lawyers sit with books. No labs, no electronics, just old school learning of a set course load. Get used to it, with the WEST publishing monopoly law books are stooopidly overpriced.
  • When I was a student there was sadly no such thing as pirated books. What was really infuriating was that each class would require you to buy 4 or 5 books. You'd take the class and only open 1 or 2! And then you'd find out that one of the books was authored by your professor!

    I quickly learned not to buy any of the books. The first day the professor would ask us to take it out I said "opps! forgot that one in my dorm!" share with someone the first day and pick it up on the way to my dorm. I recommend this st

  • It's not unprecedented. I don't know the legal details but anyone who's ever been an in amateur production of a musical will tell you that Music Theatre, International will not sell you a script or a score. I believe the statement is that you have rented them. You are warned to make any markings lightly and in pencil and to erase them completely before returning them.

  • Is that like a renting fee?

  • Fortunately for you, most of you have never been in law school (I like to tell prospective law students that there are more amusing prisons in the mountains of Peru.). So you have had no reason to look at a law school casebook.

    The name casebook distinguishes them from textbooks used by students in other fields. A casebook consists mostly of the reports of the decisions of courts (most often appellate courts) in actual decided cases. The case reports (thus the name cases) are usually edited to remove materia

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