The price of textbooks is a problem in higher education that cannot be ignored. Since students are receiving little help from the education and copyright systems, Internet pirates have stepped in to help.
The problem of textbook pricing is nothing new. But the continual recession we’re facing, combined with rising inflation is making textbook sticker shock sting even more.
So what are cash strapped students supposed to do? Do they pay the high prices and hope the decision benefits them down the road - even though the prices they pay for these books rarely reflect their actual value?
Or do they find a better way?
Currently, the only alternative to owning the high priced physical books is to rent the book, in physical form or digital form. And it’s not cheap because both rental models are based around the high prices of the physical books.
In essence, the renting of textbooks from publishers or eTextbook services doesn’t do much to change the fact that the textbook industry overcharges students for books of questionable worth.
Of course, there is another controversial alternative - based around file sharing technology and the goodness of certain people.
An article on TorrentFreak recently discussed the arrival of a new way to help students get affordable access to the textbooks they need for their education.
As you can probably guess, LibraryPirate is a bittorrent site that does exactly what the name implies: pirate books. Its latest endeavor is aimed at fighting the practices made possible by the questionable copyright system on textbooks.
Yes, LibraryPirate wants to help students by making textbook rentals last forever, and they’re doing it with a computer program and the collaborative nature of Internet spaces.
One of the examples described in the TorrentFreak article was a textbook that costs $200, but offers a time-limited digital rental copy for $118.50. Based on that example (and there are many more if you Google it) students really aren’t saving much.
This is especially true if you realize students are being charged upwards of $100 for roughly four months of access to what amounts to little more than a PDF or a website containing the book’s text.
Sometimes the supplemental website materials that are assigned by instructors and paired with textbooks cost $30-50 - without even giving you access to the book itself.
Most cash strapped college students would agree that something needs to change, and soon. But LibraryPirate’s Hire-a-Pirate service isn't willing to wait any longer.
As such, students in need of a book let LibraryPirate staff know which book they need. LibraryPirate then finds the book on eTextbook rental services and tells the student what the current rental price is.
The students are then asked to buy a gift certificate from the official seller for the full amount and send the gift code to LibraryPirate. The staff then rents the book on the student’s behalf.
“After a little bit of this and a little of that, we strip the DRM from the PDF and contact the user letting them know the book is ready via torrent,” says LibraryPirate’s admin. “The student can now carry the textbook with them anywhere for as long as they want, allowing the PDF to be easily read on any device.”
Not only does the book become available for others due to the kindness of an online community with similar interests, but students can split the cost of getting a book between multiple people.
So if the $118.50 example from the TorrentFreak were spilt between 10 people it would cost each student $11.85 to have access to the book permanently. That’s about as cheap as it gets. Textbook companies will hate it, but the moral argument is sound.
Students are trying to help each other out by sharing and collaborating and their actions will benefit many others.
LibraryPirate also released a program (LPBR) that turns any digital camera into "a lean mean textbook scanning machine."
The picture taker places the book on a black background and photographs its pages, and a couple of clicks later you get an ebook.
"LPBR will crop, sharpen and re-size the entire folder of camera scan images into one easily readable PDF book," says LibraryPirate’s admin. "It’s so easy to scan a textbook now, even a college student can do it. During our testing, we were able to scan and convert one 500 page book in under 2 hours."
Sure, it may be copyright infringement, but morally I (personally) do not see a problem with it. If textbooks had prices that actually reflected their true market value, then people wouldn’t embark on such elaborate forms of rebellion against the education system. If only there was some way for students and the educational establishement to meet somewhere in the middle...