North Wind And Sun

Surprised? Students pirate texbooks

Posted in College, Piracy, Torrents, Uncategorized by Ricardo Bilton on 19-July-2008

This is a textbook.

I propose – if it hasn’t been proposed already –  a new rule in the vein of Rule 34, only far less explicit.

It’s essentially this: If something can exist digitally, someone is pirating it right now.

I mention this in light of situation surrounding textbooktorrents.com, which, last I checked, had been taken down by DreamHost. Textbook torrents, a torrent tracker that, until recently, provided students with free, largely illegal textbook torrents was named in a Chronicle of Higher Education report about textbook piracy.

Now, I’ve been trying to rationalize two particular facets of the situation – why it exists, and why it matters – and I’ve reached a few conclusions.

Why it exists should be fairly obvious. The situation is a perfect storm of financial disincentives and technological prowess. As anyone who has ever been a student certainly knows, textbooks are expensive, often excessively so, and nearly out of the range of the wallets of most college students But that’s not exactly unique for textbooks. Technological prowess factors in when we realize that the group that high textbook prices affects the most is also the group that knows the most about illegally downloading material via the Internet. Thus, textbook piracy becomes an act that we can bind fairly well to a certain group of people – college students.

But why does this matter? Unlike, say music or movies, textbooks are often vitally important to successful completion of a course. When you look the average price for a college textbook it should start to make sense why students would pirate them – they are bloody expensive. This is not reason to condone piracy or any act that takes money away from authors, but it certainly reveals something about the financial situation of the average college student. This is why it should be looked at a bit differently than music or movie piracy.

I wonder if this difference can explain the publishing companies’ comparatively  tame anti-piracy tactics, which usually involve threatening emails to the sites that host content rather than crusades against the people who download from them.

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