Textbook piracy via BitTorrent on the rise

July 2nd, 2008

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on students using BitTorrent to share scanned copies of textbooks. The article, Textbook Piracy Grows Online, Prompting a Counterattack From Publishers, starts off

“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. One Web site, called Textbook Torrents, promises more than 5,000 textbooks for download in PDF format, complete with the original textbook layout and full-color illustrations. Users must simply set up a free account and download a free software program that uses a popular peer-to-peer system called BitTorrent. Other textbook-download sites are even easier to use, offering digital books at the click of a mouse.”

Text books are an interesting niche for file sharing. They are surely expensive and publishers manage to publish new editions of popular titles almost every year, undermining the market for used texts. On the other hand, digitizing a text book requires scanning it, which takes time, attention to detail, equipment, and labor. It’s not as simple as ripping a CD.

Update 7/7/08: The Chronicle of Higher Education has a follow up story, Founder of Textbook-Download Site Says Offering Free Copyrighted Textbooks Is Act of ‘Civil Disobedience’

“… But the founder of Textbook Torrents calls his actions “civil disobedience” against “the monopolistic business practices” of textbook publishers. The site’s founder, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of legal action against him, talked to The Chronicle over an Internet phone call last night and defended his creation, though he described it as operating in a “legal gray area.” He said he is an undergraduate at a college outside of the United States, though he would not name the institution or country, and that he operates the Web site from there. His biggest complaint: that textbooks are just too expensive, and that prices climb each year. “We’re showing both students and textbook publishers that this isn’t acceptable anymore,” he said. “A lot of users are absolutely fed up with the system.” He said he views the 64,000 registered users of his textbook-download site as votes against that system.”