Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Not piracy, not civil disobedience, and not OA

Jeffrey Young, Textbook Piracy Grows Online, Prompting a Counterattack From Publishers, Chronicle of Higher Education, July 1, 2008.  Also see the CHE's blog post on the story, if only because it supports user comments.  From the article:

College students are increasingly downloading illegal copies of textbooks online, employing the same file-trading technologies used to download music and movies. Feeling threatened, book publishers are stepping up efforts to stop the online piracy....


  • Nobody is calling this OA, and that's good.  I'm only blogging the story in order to distinguish lawful OA from unlawful file-swapping.  Yes, expensive textbooks are a serious problem.  I myself have often written about a growing textbook pricing crisis.  But the solution is to create and use OA textbooks (a growing movement, BTW), and share the work of the consenting, not to infringe the copyrights of TA textbooks and share the work of the unconsenting.  For more, see my October 2003 article, Not Napster for science.
  • The anonymous host of Textbook Torrents, one of the web sites offering illicitly-scanned copyrighted textbooks for downloading, called his actions "civil disobedience".  Please.  I strongly support OA textbooks and I know something about civil disobedience, which is an act of political protest, not an act for personal gain.  On the contrary, it can involve serious personal hardship, such as police dogs, firehoses, and imprisonment.  Martin Luther King, Jr., taught his followers to "accept blows without retaliation".  Most disobedient activists willingly accept legal penalties, in part to publicize their protest and in part to make clear that they are not acting for personal gain.  The exceptions are protesters whose purpose is to challenge the constitutionality of the law they violated.  The host of Textbook Torrents "asked to remain anonymous for fear of legal action against him" (according to the Chronicle).  By all means point out the problem in stark terms, and offer the strongest ethical or political defense of your solution that you can.  Just don't call it civil disobedience.
  • I hate to point out an other hand, but there is one.  For years publishers have abused language on their side by calling copyright infringement "piracy".  It's not piracy, which ranges from theft of physical property all the way to maiming, mayhem, and murder.  Perhaps the host of Textbook Torrents can strike a plea bargain with the lexicography police:  If publishers will stop calling copyright infringement "piracy", he or she will stop calling it "civil disobedience". 

Update (10/10/08). Textbook Torrents shut down.