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The Right To Read: Time Limited Textbooks 477

Posted by michael
from the disaster-unfolding dept.
qbasicprogrammer writes: "Vital Source Technologies is now providing time-limited medical textbooks to universities. Password protected books as predicted in The Right To Read by Richard Stallman are finally becoming a reality." Starting on Oct. 28, (when the other part of the DMCA comes into effect), you could face a civil lawsuit and criminal penalties of up to five years in jail and a fine of $500,000 for reading someone else's textbook. See the NYU FAQ, the Advogato discussion, or the company crowing about new revenue opportunities.
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The Right To Read: Time Limited Textbooks

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  • If a person purchases a book they aren't allowed to let someone else read it? What kind of ridiculous day and age are we living in when electronic means are being created in order to prevent sharing and helping one another? Yes, please sign me up for the electronic devestation of my right to be nice to other humans!
  • Think about it, it makes a lot of sense to have medical textbooks that are time limited.

    Consider eating eggs for example.

    1950 Eggs are good for you.

    1970 Eggs are bad for you.

    1980 Eggs aren't so bad for you.

  • It isn't unusual to be forced to buy the crappy book your prof published. I think that, more than anything else will drive whether schools move to eTexts.

  • by BJH (11355)
    OK, time for all you idiots that have been calling RMS a maniac to eat your words. He was dead on target with this one.

    Quite frankly, I find the idea that you can be charged for reading over someone's shoulder one step short of the "Thought Police". No way would I ever spend money on a textbook that was licensed like this.

    (BTW, I work for a publishing company, and I can tell you that the higher-ups would drool at the idea of such a system. The day I have to work on such a book is the day I quit my job.)

  • By implementing the VSTi system, however, universities contractually agree to require at least three titles per curriculum topic. Therefore, the number of titles used by students increases significantly.

    Well, isn't that wonderful. The number, and source, of required texts for our future doctors is no longer determined by need, but by contractual obligation to the publisher...
    ___

  • by FascDot Killed My Pr (24021) on Monday August 28, 2000 @05:56AM (#822041)
    Imagine a world where ALL textbooks are password-protected, time-limited, etc. How does Steve Wozniak learn electronics? How does Edison learn physics or engineering? How does ANY person of limited means learn ANYTHING? And how do we pool our knowledge on anything from "how do you set the VCR clock" to "how do you make starship"?

    There are powerful societal reasons to keep information transfer as free (in all senses of the word) as possible. Unfortunately, these reasons don't translate well into the language of capitalism. There is no way to say "a rising tide lifts all boats" in Capitalismese.

    Discussion question: How do you explain this to business people (who run the country) OR build it into the economy?
    --
  • by icqqm (132707) on Monday August 28, 2000 @05:56AM (#822042) Homepage Journal
    The DMCA was created for things like this. You're not buying books, you're buying licenses to read books. It's like a library where you pay. And someone will come up with a way to break the woefully inadequate protection system they have there so people can read the books when they like, and they will be sued, even if they live in some other country. And we will be better off because with rights and freedom, chaos would immediately ensue.
  • by Happy Monkey (183927) on Monday August 28, 2000 @05:59AM (#822045) Homepage
    Consider eating eggs for example.

    1950 Eggs are good for you.

    1970 Eggs are bad for you.

    1980 Eggs aren't so bad for you.

    Actually, I would say that 1950 eggs are pretty bad for you, whether you are talking about year of origin, or quantity...
    ___

  • Since we all know any "secure" form of information can be broken in any way or form, do they have a way of tracking which book goes to who? There's something to be said about just copying the text content only, but what does this company do when 50 people make copies of their books? Do they have a way of marking each cd in a unique fasion?

    ---
  • This could turn out to be a net positive. I'm not suggesting that it will cause the public to "rise up" and strike down the DMCA, but... it could draw some serious attention and paint the whole thing in a seriously unflattering light. Most people I talk to don't know or care about the DMCA. When I try to explain it to them in terms of DeCSS, Napster, MP3.com, etc. their eyes just sort of glaze over. Maybe this is something that the average citizen can relate to.
  • by harmonica (29841) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:03AM (#822054)
    The website of VitalBook hasn't got a lot of technical details -- or at least I didn't find them. I'd ask the typical questions:
    • What should prevent people from cracking the encryption system like it has been done with other systems?
    • How do they make sure that the time they check against to see if the user is still allowed to read isn't faked?
    • What about the well-known problem of people not liking to read from the screen?
    • If I have a printing privilege (as is mentioned on the website), can't I simply print into a PostScript file and read that file as long as I wish (and distribute it)?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I hope you all like the world you are creating.
  • Anyone that has tried to go through registration or financial aid in a university will know that this will go on without a hitch...
    Universities are a military dictatorship (at least mine was, the bloodsucking bastards...), and the college kids are used to being screwed... royally... twice a day.


    -- "Almost everyone is an idiot. If you think I'm exaggerating, then you're one of them."
  • by david614 (10051) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:05AM (#822059) Journal
    Do you understand the implications of restricting the free-flow of ideas in a democratic society? If the principal means of distributing knowledge are restricted, you have your first step (a big one) on the road to the creation of a self-perpetuating oligarchy -- with high and criminal-law protected -- barriers to entry. And what about the ability of individuals (this is America isn't it) to self-educate from easily affordable and readily available sources of information. What about the World Wide Web?!

    On the other hand, maybe ubiquitously available napster type applications, plus faster bandwidth availability, and wide-spread dissemination of dvd-encryption busting tools will leave these fascistic proposals on the scrap heap of history.

    Here's Hoping.

  • by grahamsz (150076) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:06AM (#822060) Homepage Journal
    Redmond WA, Monday 28th August -- Microsoft Press today announced that they will be moving all their current publications into a time limited form.

    This is designed to alleviate the current problems they have of failing to get it right the first time.

    We were unable to get a comment from microsoft, but a preprepared press release says "By allowing a user to only use the textbook for the first hour after purchase we hope to be able to provide up to the minute content. Since our standards change so regularly users will never be misled by outdated content".

    Beta testers were reported to be pleased with the books although there have been several injuries as a result of the impromptu warning:

    "This textbook will self destruct in five seconds"
  • How do we know that RMS didn't inadvertantly give the company the idea in the first place? Some currency-whore could have been trolling around looking for the next big cash-orgy, and stumbled across RMS's article, and the article became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just a thought.

  • by mmca (180858) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:06AM (#822062) Homepage
    So how long before med students are downloading "Principles of Internal Medicine" at the krad super 'leet med text warez site?

    Click here for Hot Teen Action
    Click here for Sanford's Guide to Antimicrobial Therapy
    Click here for QuakeV

    Can't wait
  • by Kaa (21510) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:07AM (#822063) Homepage
    Before everybody starts to scream about having these guys drawn and quartered, I'd like to remind the esteemed Slashdot audience about such thing as freedom, and in particular, the freedom of contract. If there is no monopoly situation (and it doesn't seem like it) then why in the world should anybody be prevented from making a product (even if you believe it's bad) and trying to sell it? After all, that's what market economy means: good products succeed and bad products fail. For a good example look at Divx (Circuit City idea to sell time-limited movies, etc.) Was there any regulation/legislation necessary? No. Did the stupid idea die on its own? Yes.

    Same thing here. These guys have to compete with real textbooks which, among other things, have resale value. If you think that you'd like to keep that textbook as a reference even after the course is over, why, then, don't buy the time-limited version. As long as there is a choice, I don't see any problems.

    Granted, if any attempt is made to force such textbooks on people, I'd be in the front rows of the lynching mob. Other than that I have no objections to having a choice between a $120 paper textbook and (hopefully) $20 time-limited DVD.

    It's funny how all the pseudo-libertarians around here are unwilling to let the market decide...

    Kaa
  • No. They are licensing your use of a CD to 'read' those books.

    It's legal, but it's bunk.
    W
    The difference between paying $600 a term for the 'vitabook' and paying $2000 for 'real' books is that YOU GET TO KEEP THE REAL BOOKS!
  • by Idaho (12907) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:08AM (#822067)
    I don't know about you, but most people don't like to read from a screen, not in the last place because you can not make annotations on your screen (well, at least it won't be a very smart idea :-)

    While a portable TFT screen may help overcome the portability and glare problems, making annotiations remains a problem.

    Especially in textbooks I want to make a lot of annotations. My opinion is that, up to now, most software that I have heard of that tries to let you do this, just plain sucks. Nothing beats a pencil and paper sometimes...

    Now with that new write recognizion hardware you see around lately (running Linux :) my opinion *might* change....
  • About 20 years ago, when I began college, through just a few years ago (when I finally went back and finished college) the University and the professors used radically different methods:

    1. They would have "new editions" of textbooks quite frequently. The main difference seemed to be the wording or order of questions assigned for homework. Calc books were the most amazing. Did not know Business student calculus was so dynamic as to require a new adition of the same book every year or 2.

    2. "Class packs" were common a few years back, until some lawsuit against Kinko's stalled wholsale copyright violations by professors. Somehow, a way was found around that and class packs were available again, for a pretty hefty price, given the "quality" of a pile of xeroxed paper. BTW, even though the pile of bad quality printed paper was a collection of other's work, don't dare make a copy for a friend or the prof. would have a fit.

    It seems that this latest twist has the same effect as the tactics used before, except the professors/textbook writers do not have to move the questions around every couple of terms.

    However, in the past there were not any criminal hammers hovering over the students for these violations.

    Visit DC2600 [dc2600.com]
  • by ChaosDiscord (4913) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:10AM (#822071) Homepage Journal
    So speaks the NYU Dental school's FAQ [nyu.edu] on the VitalBook:
    What if I decide I don't like the VitalBook? First of all, the VitalBook has been extensively pilot tested and a beta-version was out for some time before the application was completed - that means, we don't believe you won't like it!
    Wow, that's conviction. We're so certain you'll love the VitalBook, that if you claim you don't like it, we'll accuse you of lying.

    Sure, the FAQ does go on to say that you can return it if you're not satisfied, but students starting in 2001 are told "It is our position that ALL dentists must have excellent computer skills to maximize their skill and knowledge as dentists." To help them build excellent computer skills, Apple PowerBooks and VitalBooks are mandatory.

    Meanwhile, back at VitalBooks [vitalviewer.com] themselves, they comment:

    Publishers are guaranteed 100% market penetration at partner schools who opt to implement the Vital Source system. Purchase of all included titles is mandated by the universities.

    Here at VitalBook, we've taken care of little details like choice. Heck, you don't even need to be taking a given course to charge people for it:

    Because the service is a global curriculum application, the fee comes in from each student each of the four years of their studies, regardless of whether they are taking that course that year.
    And that pesky used book store where people can save a little money on their education and help protect the environment with reuse:
    In the VSTi system, publishers...do not compete against used copies of their own books....

    My biggest hope is that as companies get increasingly... well... evil, it will become clear to everyone that this must be stopped. I don't want to live in a world where I license everything and own nothing.

  • by sterno (16320) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:11AM (#822073) Homepage
    One of the things I see a growing need for is a protected right of transfer for any copyrighted material. Essentially the right protects your ability to transfer your access to any copyrighted work to another party at no cost. This right would not be limited to purchased items (something quickly dissapearing it seems), also extending to leased works where you pay for limited time access, etc.

    This would make it illegal for Microsoft to sell licenses that restricted use of their product to one computer or one purchaser. The rights they convey to you would also be conveyed to any person you wished to transfer that software too. If you had permanent access to some medical database, you could transfer that access to somebody else (setting the ground for the notion of inheritance of intellectual property).

    Now, to the benefit of copyright holders, I think it is fair to allow them to build in limitations that permit only one copy of an item to exist at a time. So, if you transfer your rights to an item, you cannot continue to share those rights. But I think there should also be built in requirements to allow for limited duplication of material for archival purposes (how many of us have lost our CD's to scratches?)

    ---

  • What happens after I graduate? For students who subscribe throughout dental school, the VitalBook you have when you graduate will always be active. The College is finalizing a plan for alumni which will be announced later. If you decide to return the VitalBook after 90 days, or you do not renew the program after the first year, your VitalBook will become non-functional and will not work at all.

    The NYU FAQ implies the DVD will still be readable (meaning NOT time limited) -- just won't be updated. It appears the story leading was misleading.

    Ken
  • Now it seems that even knowledge is becoming ISO9xx-ied.
    Have these guys actually found somebody to share their pretentions with them ?
    Let's take a look to their partners list [vitalviewer.com]...
    Jeeesus... They don't need partners, they construct theirs !
    It is also strange to see Mac Powerbooks [vitalviewer.com] on all of their Vital Book-related pages though I am sure this will rather run on MS platforms.

    Grrr...
    PS: When will the toilet paper also be subject to non-disclosure-agreements ?
    Maybe when electronic noses will be there to check who did uses one another's.

    --
  • How does this work?

    Easy enough, simply put an "effective" access control on the book preventing more then one person from reading it, and then get them on "circumvention".

    Since the DeCSS trial has showed us how relative the word "effective" is (to the surprise of those of us who though it had something to do with working as advertised), a pair of those "secret spy glasses" toys for kids is probably enough.
  • This is great. They sell it to you the first year for $600, which saves you a chunk of money over the normal $1500 they say books cost the first year. Great. But then they charge you $1200 for each additional year, for a total of $4,200 over four years. But in their faq they say that on average a student only pays $3000 for books over the 4 years of attendance. And this makes sense how?

    That's not even counting the fact that you have to buy an Apple computer to view the thing, which they're happy to sell you, of course. Go figure.

    I guess they think that being able to search easier is going to be worth the $1200 extra you pay for the books alone, but last I checked, textbooks tend to have a pretty good index in the back for that.

    I would assume (hope, anyway) that they give you some way to highlight and make notes while you're reading, and if they had any foresight they'd search that when you do searches later, which might be nice. I'd still go with a good old book I can keep on my shelf and won't have to worry about them deciding to deactivate someday.

    According to the faq, if you finish the program and pay all the way through the 4 years, you'll have the books and they'll work forever. If you give them back before the 90 day period, you get your money back and don't keep the books. So what happens if you quit in between?

    I'll stick to real books, thanks.

    Borogrove

  • Kaa comments:
    These guys have to compete with real textbooks which, among other things, have resale value....

    Granted, if any attempt is made to force such textbooks on people, I'd be in the front rows of the lynching mob.

    Part of the problem is that this is being forced on people. VitalBook themselves says:
    Publishers are guaranteed 100% market penetration at partner schools who opt to implement the Vital Source system. Purchase of all included titles is mandated by the universities.

    Go read VitalBook's page on the subject [vitalviewer.com]. Their list of "features" includes mandated purchases by schools (and NYU's Dental school is doing exactly this starting in 2001), and the removal of used book sales. They aren't competing with printed books. Frighting stuff. Given the current attitude of "save money at any cost" at universities, I can certainly see this spreading.

  • Score -1, didn't read any of the links in the article before replying.

    --
    Michael Sims-michael at slashdot.org
  • It's not a book. It's software -- searchable, upgradeable content, with all the implications such as the culture of EULAs (There's no real legal r`eason, AFAIK, why a book can't be shipped with a EULA; it's just not particularly useful to do so given that beyond photocopying the book or plagiarising there's not much "wrong" that can be done with it).
  • by Captain_Carnage (4901) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:19AM (#822098)
    No it doesn't; at the very least having the information available gives you some historical insight as to where we were medically at any given point in time.

    But the issues are much more serious than that... The DMCA is a very large step in the wrong direction for your freedoms in this country, and this is just another example of how the DMCA is going to strip you and all of us of our Constitutional freedoms if we don't wake up and DO something about it.

    This country is becoming it's own worst nightmare; an Orwellian police state. Just look at the DVD lawsuit. People are being prevented from linking to sites because of the content that's there... is that NOT a violation of your Constitutional right to free speech? This particular article is somewhat remenicent of Farrenheit 451, where books were illegalized and burned in the street. Is this the kind of society you want to live in?

    There is a war brewing... a war between the techological haves and have-nots. The people who have the information don't want YOU to get it, so they can monopolize their possesion of it and make money from it. That's what this is all about.

    What's amazing to me is that we, the geek community, have done very little about this. The work that we do is being criminalized, rather than cherished as it should be. Reverse engineering, the act of figuring out how things work, is all but illegal, now that we have the DMCA. Freedom of speech is diminished, because you can't describe how something works if the creator made some half-assed electronic attempt to maintain control over it, thanks to the DMCA.

    Why have we been so quiet about this? Write your congressman and let them know what an abomination you think the DMCA is. Visit the EFF's website [eff.org] and find out what you can about how the government is allowing big business to strip you of your Constitutionally "guaranteed" civil rights.

    And when you finally get it, tell your friends.


    Check out the OSS linux clustering technology called
  • Yes, yes, yes!

    Come on blameless, you know damn well the DMCA has everything to do with putting WHATEVER THE HELL THEY PLEASE IN THEIR UNNEGOCIABLE, UNAVOIDABLE END USER LICENSE AGREEMENT.

  • You know, if this ridiculous 'license' thing takes off, I'm going to copyright my license plates and charge cops every time they run a check on them!

    --
  • You have a couple of good points, but the web site mentioned in the article also says that this'll be required at some point in the future. At least at NYU. In this case, the university could almost be thought of as having a monopoly.

    Dave
  • by Kaa (21510) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:21AM (#822106) Homepage
    I'll take some wild guesses:

    What should prevent people from cracking the encryption system like it has been done with other systems?

    Nothing :-)

    Other that DMCA, that is.

    How do they make sure that the time they check against to see if the user is still allowed to read isn't faked?

    They don't. They just hope that it's too much of a bother to people to reset system clock. In general, getting authenticated time is highly non-trivial.

    What about the well-known problem of people not liking to read from the screen?

    Simple solution: fuck 'em.

    If I have a printing privilege (as is mentioned on the website), can't I simply print into a PostScript file and read that file as long as I wish (and distribute it)?

    Because that would be a violation of the license. And we all know what a violation of an IP license is: it is theft. Theft, THEFT! Do you hear me, all you criminals, it's *T*H*E*F*T* and you'll all burn in hell! Aaaaaah...!!

    Sorry. Got carried away a bit :-)


    Kaa
  • by A nonymous Coward (7548) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:23AM (#822107)
    Copyright is supposedly a limitation on freedom of the press for a limited time in exchange for encouraging more works to be created.

    Copyright has been hijacked by the big corps at public expense; it is no longer for a meaningful limited time, and fair use, resale, loaning, viewing platform of choice, any number of traditional uses are history, according to the corps. Now here comes a new govt enforced violation of the spirit of copyright.

    How can you call this libertarian? It's govt enforcement at public expense against the public good for private gain.

    --
  • by mindstrm (20013)
    American rampant consumerism... I'm wondering what the problem is.

    You can either a) Buy the books at regular price or
    b) Buy a limited-time licensed DVD-Rom with ALL the books on it, for a cheaper price. This is like a subscription.

    Where is the problem? If you don't LIKE the idea of time-limited books, don't BUY them!
  • It would be nice to have a paper *and* and electronic copy of the book. That way you could use the paper version for reading and the electronic version for *searching* -- I think searchability (and to a lesser extent, the ability to cut and paste) outweighs the negative aspects of online books.
  • 1.) The NYU FAQ says that you have to use an Apple Powerbook. Don't you think that they'll get a backlash from, say, the Windoze and Linux users who don't want to buy a whole new computer?

    2.) Isn't it just a matter of time before someone breaks whatever sort of encryption thing they have on these and we get a DeCSS-like situation?

    3.) What if you don't want to have to stare at a screen to read the book, but (god forbid) you want something tangible that you can scribble in and mark up?

    We shall see what happens, won't we...

  • Because breaking encryption of any kind for any purpose is a violation of the DMCA. So long as they have some sort of encryption method (even ROT13 would be enough) then it's illegal to share it becase sharing requires breaking of encryption. If Quake had some method of only letting one human play it, then letting someone else play, which would require breaking the encryption method, would be a crime.
  • You haven't been paying attention to the DeCSS cases, have you? Access control measures are not the same as copy control measures. Hundreds of people are being sued in California and New York for creating/distributing a utility which allows them to watch DVDs - not copy them, but merely watch, especially in the California case - on unapproved players. Lawfully purchased DVDs.

    Pay attention. This isn't about copying anymore (although copying is, of course, also covered). If your Vitalbook has a password, let's call it "foobar", and you give the password to a friend to read, both you and the friend have just circumvented an access control measure for private financial gain (otherwise the friend would have had to buy it). As of October 28, that is against the law. You're liable, and vulnerable.

    --
    Michael Sims-michael at slashdot.org
  • I just took my Harry Potter: Sorcerer's Stone over to a friends house for him to read to his kids. Um.. It's a gift! Yeah! That's the ticket!

    I can see some usefulness of timely books, but reference to previous medical publications is why professionals build libraries. (heck, I still have PL/1 books) I suppose I'll just have to boycott these types of online publications, after all, if nobody buys them then they'll have to change. Publishers *do* know which side of the bread the butter goes on (the down side.)

    Vote [dragonswest.com] Naked 2000
  • Adam Smith's invisible hand is a means, "a rising tide" is a goal.

    The invisible hand is a meta-statement about a free economy. However, we don't have a free economy, we have built in certain restrictions (patents, copyrights, anti-monopoly laws, etc). Also, the real world is not identical to theory (real people don't have perfect information or perfect logic). For these reasons, it is sometimes possible for the economy to be on a path that does not head towards the goal the society wants (a rising tide). My question is: What restrictions do we remove/add/modify to make that goal more likely.

    Phrased correctly, these problems are amenable to mathematical analysis. I'm not competent to do the math, but I'm taking notes in the hopes that I *am* competent to do the phrasing.
    --
  • by Veteran (203989) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:32AM (#822125)
    By far the most important part of this is the ability of the producing company to turn off your ability to read the book.

    This means that whoever produces the 'books' will have a lifetime ability to extort money from you: "Pay the yearly 'licensing fee' or we won't give you this year's encryption key."

    Of course this year's encryption fee is just the 4 digit year (i.e. 2000, 2001) etc. but the DMCA forbids you to figure that fact out - since that is 'breaking a digital protection method'. The DMCA even forbids you to set the wrong date in the computer's clock to spoof a time when you had a good password - since that is 'bypassing a protection means', and subjects you to the draconian penalties of the DMCA.

    Part of the reasons that women fear the outlawing of abortion is that it gives the police the right and the obligation to investigate every miscarriage. Part of the reason that geeks need to fear the DMCA is that it gives the police the right and the obligation to investigate everything that you do on your computer; "The CMOS clock on your machine is wrong, how do we know that you aren't trying to circumvent digital protection means on your computer? "

    I can't wait until some lawyer figures out that all reading is covered by the DMCA since when you learn something you are making a copy into an electronic computer (your brain).

    --

    The law, 100's of millions of lines of code, not one line of which has ever been checked to see if it works.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:32AM (#822126)
    I just read VitalViewer's comments to publishers, and I cannot believe how exploitive this company tries to be. A couple of quotes:

    "Publishers are guaranteed 100% market penetration at partner schools who opt to implement the Vital Source system. Purchase of all included titles is mandated by the universities."

    How can VitalViewer claim to the publishers that a university will mandate the use of the VitalViewer textbooks? I've never seen a university say "if you don't use this text book, you will get an F". I thought grades were dependant on the student's comprehension of the material, not on the purchase of a book.

    "Because the service is a global curriculum application, the fee comes in from each student each of the four years of their studies, regardless of whether they are taking that course that year."

    This one is the most appalling. They're actually claiming that universities will force students to pay for a product that they won't even use. Courses normally require a "mandatory" textbook, but many students used the libraries' copies, and passed anyway. I've yet to see an exam require a copy of the book's receipt.

    "By implementing the VSTi system, however, universities contractually agree to require at least three titles per curriculum topic. Therefore, the number of titles used by students increases significantly."

    I think they forgot to add "whether they're needed or not".

    Students are already having a tough time going through university or college because of the enormous costs. Here in Canada, university is partially subsidized by the government, so the costs are lower, but it's still very expensive to get through a 4 year degree.

    The scary part is that some universities have already adopted the VitalViewer system.

    bh

  • What about a computer? The VitalBook version for the 2000-2001 academic year is fully-developed on the Apple Macintosh. You must have an Apple PowerBook for this application.

    Ouch. Even though financial aid covers the cost, being locked into Apple would suck.

    What does the VitalBook cost? For year one, the cost to the Class of 2004 is $600. If you continue in the program beyond year one, it will cost $1,200 annually (cost for the remaining three years is $3,600). Plus the cost of the PowerBook

    What if I decide I don't like the VitalBook? First of all, the VitalBook has been extensively pilot tested and a beta-version was out for some time before the application was completed - that means, we don't believe you won't like it!

    "Come the revolution, you'll all have strawberries and cream, and you'll like it!" This attitude bothers me enough, that if I was actually interested in going to dental school, I'd drop NYU from consideration for trying to force use fo the "vitalbook".

    What happens in 2020, when the dentist who bought the VitalBook is trying to look something up, and his 2000 PowerBook dies, and his 2018 PowerBook isn't backwards-compatible with the VitalBook software? Books are always readable, unless they physically rot. Can you read those old MSWord 1.0 documents on 5-1/4 floppies anymore? Paper will never die, even if it stops being made from dead trees, because there is no technology beyond written language required to read it.

  • We can only hope that this technology will meet the same fate as DIVX. If it doesn't, there's going to be a lot of pressure for publishers everywhere to use it to increase profits. That would be very, very bad. Education is bad enough in this country without making it even more difficult for people to get their hands on books.

  • by FlightTest (90079) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:33AM (#822130) Homepage
    I could be wrong here, and I probably am, but the "Vital Source Technologies" website LOOKS like a total hoax. I mean, come on, lets THINK a little instead of immediately going into anti-capitalism knee-jerk.

    1) This will create the need for 2 textbooks, the electronic and the dead tree version. Ever hear of community colleges (at least that's what they're called here in California)? Typically, a fair number of people are there because they can't afford state college. If they can't afford state, they probably can't afford fancy computers. Many community colleges offer large computer labs for the students becasue they know the students can't afford computers. Will publishers REALLY want to maintain 2 versions of the same text?

    2) I _LOVE_ the part where the publisher will update the content every year as part of the licence agreement. Ever look at the copyrights for some of your books? Ever wonder if some of those guys are still ALIVE? I've studied under professors who have written books (yes,we used their books, but I got lucky, they were pretty good books), and typically, there was at least a five year span between editions. What author is going to want to work hard enough to update his or her material every year?

    3) Ever have a professor who seemed to have the book MEMORIZED? They guy hasn't changed his lesson plan in 10 years, and he's retiring in 5 and doesn't want to ever change his lesson plan again. You think professors like this are going to want texts that change EVERY YEAR? NOT!

    4) As someone else pointed out, Universities make $$$$$ off used books. I know I typically got less than 1/2 of what I paid for a book that was used in the first place when I sold it back. I don't think the Universities are going to want to give up that revenue stream.

    5) But wait, you say, the University will REQUIRE all this due to the larger revenue stream of requiring 3 books per ciriculum. Uhhh, they _COULD_ do this now, with dead tree books. But they don't. Ever seen a university try to force professors to do something? It isn't pretty.

    6) None of the links on the bottom of the page work.

    I could be wrong. I probably am. But this smells like hoax to me, or (here I go qualifying already) at the most a straw man to gage reaction.
  • by davonds (196851) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:34AM (#822132)
    The Library of Congress keeps a copy of every book published in the United States, and is open to the public. Will a copy of these e-textbooks be provided to the Library of Congress and other libraries? Will they be denied legal copyright if they refuse to provide a copy? Will they even be considered books, or are they in fact just software? A lot of questions, I look forward, with a great deal of trepidation, to the answers.
  • by Paul Carver (4555) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:35AM (#822133)
    The problem is who's signing the contract and who's being bound by it. In this case, they aren't the same.

    By implementing the VSTi system, however, universities contractually agree to require at least three titles per curriculum topic. Therefore, the number of titles used by students increases significantly.

    So VSTi wines and dines the university president and suddenly all the students are required to either pay the extortion or withdraw from that univerity. Students aren't buying books based on what they need, but rather on the university's contractual obligation. Universities in general aren't accountable to the students, so it's not hard to imagine that a sufficiently unscrupulous VSTi sales force get a large percentage of schools into contracts.
  • by meepzorb (61992) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:35AM (#822134)
    What's amazing to me is that we, the geek community, have done very little about this. The work that we do is being criminalized, rather than cherished as it should be. Reverse engineering, the act of figuring out how things work, is all but illegal, now that we have the DMCA. Freedom of speech is diminished, because you can't describe how something works if the creator made some half-assed electronic attempt to maintain control over it, thanks to the DMCA.

    Why have we been so quiet about this?


    I think that it is because "We, the geeks" can be roughly divided into three groups regarding this issue:

    (1) Those who feel so disconnected from the mainstream that, frankly, they dont care.

    (2) Those who assume that geeks, being so very clever, will always be able to outwit the laws should they become too oppressive. (There's always a technical solution, yes?)

    (3) Those who, openly or secretly, are the ones profiting from this new oppressive system-- or hope to someday. Dont hold your breath waiting for the self-proclaimed "Advocates" a la ESR to ride to the rescue, folks: They see this as *their* gold rush.

    :Michael (who's about a 1.8 on this system)

  • What kind of ridiculous day and age are we living in when electronic means are being created in order to prevent sharing and helping one another?

    A day and age of piracy. Because some people refuse to pay for anything, companies react to that attitude and it ends up being harder for everyone.

    I'd guess that O'Reilly books are pretty popular around here, and that a lot of people would like to have digital copies of them, so you could load 'em on your PDA, web server, or laptop and have access to them when you're mobile. I know it makes things a lot more convenient for me.

    Now, just why do you think that O'Reilly offers digital editions of so few of its books? It's so easy to transform their standard documents into HTML, which is why they can post so many sample chapters to their website. I don't know what their publicly-stated reason is, but it's pretty obvious that they don't trust the community to not pass around as many copies of their books without paying for them as they can get their hands on. Shame. Thank the thieves for fucking it up for everyone.


    Cheers,

  • There are some benefits (non corporate) that can come from time-limited books:

    True virtual libraries - Download a copy of a book from your public library with a 3week limitation. After 3weeks, it's unreadable. (Of course, when you dl a copy, it's not like you're removing it from the shelf, and therefore someone else can't get it, UNLESS books are distributed with single user licenses.)

    Outdated/limited information - Remember the early Netscape betas - they expired about 3 months after release to prevent people using beta quality software sometime down the road. For fields like physics, chemistry, etc where we general restructure how we teach and view our science roughly every 10 years, a textbook published in 1970 may be teaching not only misleading but WRONG information, and thus limiting the date on these things may be useful. But you'd still want to be able to access that information as potental historical value. And unfortunately, there's not a large number of cases where this happens.

    Now, as I read the associated info for this article, most of the concept with time-limited books appears to be focused at colleges, which can make some sense. How many hundreds of dollars do you pay for books a year just as a scientist or engineer in school? Look at the cost of medical books, they're even worse. However, you can most likely pick up a copy of Office for less than $100 which will last you through your school years. If you could buy all your books that you'd use for school at 25% the list price, but only be able to use them through your school, after which you'd have to pay subscriptions to continue to use them, compared to buying unlimited use at 100%, I would think most students would jump on the former. I *still* want the option of the second to be available, as many professionals end up buying textbooks as reference materials, and at this point, the initial cost isn't terribly bad.

    I can't see this yet being popular for average joe: even getting away from physcially holding a book and curling up with it before bed, there's still the probably of the fact that you don't buy the book, you license it. It may lead to cheaper book prices (get Tom Clancy's latest for only $5 for a 3yr limiation as opposed to $25 for no limitation), but it can also easily lead to pay-per-page, especially if it uses any net verification to make sure that you are reading your book. Password protection would be shunned - there's something in sharing a book with a friend that adding the password layer would ruin.

  • There's no real legal r`eason, AFAIK, why a book can't be shipped with a EULA...

    You probably want to read my Copyrant [slashdot.org]. There is a legal reason why books aren't shipped with a EULA. The real question is, why is software?

    --
    Michael Sims-michael at slashdot.org
  • And your point about the historical significance of the documents is the most Orwellian piece of this tricky license. "Oh those facts were ALL UNTRUE, we've replaced them in version 666.124a. Please update your files to reflect our new reality. Licenses on prior versions of reality will be expired in fifteen days."
  • by weinerdog (181465) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:39AM (#822145) Homepage

    According to the NYU FAQ, "the full cost of textbooks and manuals for four years of dental school is about $3000." They're offering the first year of VitalBook for $600, and each remaining year for $1200. So, for four years of dental school using VitalBook, you pay $4200, for a total savings of -$1200, less the cost of the Apple G3 Powerbook, if you don't happen to already have one for some reason. (NYU strongly recommends the one sold by, surprise surprise, the NYU Computer Store.)

    Imagine that! You save -$1200, get to buy a tangerine-coloured laptop, and all you have to give up for this privilege is ownership of anything. Well, I guess you get to keep the powerbook.

    This sounds like as much of a scam on NYU's part as on Vital Source's.

    Interestingly, though, NYU says that participation in this is voluntary, while Vital Source's release to publishers indicates that it's partner universities mandate the use of their technologies. Someone seems to be lying.

  • There are powerful societal reasons to keep information transfer as free (in all senses of the word) as possible. Unfortunately, these reasons don't translate well into the language of capitalism. There is no way to say "a rising tide lifts all boats" in Capitalismese.

    Actually, there is, and I haven't had to practice economics in almost 10 years, so please pardon the mental dust. Its called "input costs". Knowledge is an input in the manufacturing process, just like raw materials are. Generally its characterized as an externality, but it is an input cost that effects labor costs and make things more expensive - so there is a captialist argument to make right there. No capitalist wants to pay more if they don't have to, so the issue of rising costs is something that makes perfect sense to capitalists. :-)

    To me, what this company is doing is creating an artifical shortage of a product, knowledge.
    Python

  • Sorry, typo; in paragraph 3 make that "this year's encryption key " Spell checkers don't get everything.
  • Apparently a dictionary wasn't one of those books you kept around to help you maintain your education...
  • the next step will be that we will all need to purchase a license to think about the ideas contained in the book, to listen to the song in our heads and to visualize in our mind the scenes from a movie.

    after all, it's their "property"

  • The War on Drugs is slightly different, but seeing that middle of the road Republican politicians are questioning the policies that have filled jails with so many drug cases that they have to be paroled, without any effort to rehab them, in order to make room for murderers, thieves, etc., I can say that the War on Drugs is coming to an end.

    But with the book thing, I believe most judges, D.A.'s, and other legal officials would be equally appalled at the idea of a book not being able to be passed along, shared, spread about to encourage universal enlightenment, that change would occur more quickly. And if I have to rot in jail with the Drug Addicts because I believe strongly in the right to Use and Dispose of my property in any fashion that does not cause injury to another, then so be it.

  • They'll be able to run Windows; there's a 'PC Beta' section on the support page for VitalBook.

    --Parity
  • If you'd read the bloody article before putting your foot in it:

    Publishers are guaranteed 100% market penetration at partner schools who opt to implement the Vital Source system. Purchase of all included titles is mandated by the universities.

    ... The fee comes in from each student each of the four years of their studies, regardless of whether they are taking that course that year.

    ... universities contractually agree to require at least three titles per curriculum topic. Therefore, the number of titles used by students increases significantly.

    Now see what the problem is?

  • by FFFish (7567) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:45AM (#822157) Homepage
    Ah, kids, back in my day, when I was in University, it sure was a different world. Would you believe we actually used flat, dead trees for our printed communication?

    Hey, no laughing, or I'll quit reminiscing!

    Yup, everything was printed on paper. That was back in the days when there were these huge multinational companies that were allowed to cut down entire forests. Would you believe that Brazil used to be a jungle? Amazing.

    Whazzat? How did they protect their books? They didn't! This'll blow your mind: we had these big buildings called "libraries," where all these books were kept, and you could go in and read them *for free*!

    Yah, you could even share your books with friends. Heh, once I even made a complete copy of one of my textbooks using this thing called a photocopy machine. You'd open up the book, put a page on the glass, press a button, and a perfect copy of the page came out of the machine.

    No, there wasn't any encryption, Timmy. It was plaintext. I know! I know! It's amazing, I told you! Everyone could share books, you didn't even need to pay for them if you went to a library, you could even make copies of them without being caught.

    Well, yah, that all came to an end at the turn of the century. That Digital Millenium Copyright Act sure put a halt to sharing books.

    Seriously, would I lie to you? This is all true!

    Yah, those were the days. You could get your information for free, and it was yours forever. Didn't have to pay Random House a yearly fee to keep them from erasing your mind, even. Once you knew stuff, it was yours forever...


    --
  • Um...probably not going to be possible in a few years.

    Penn. today introduced the new license plates: the gov't WEB SITE ADDRESS is now where the phrase "The Keystone State" used to be. According to the Chicago Trib, Illinios may be going that way.

    And we all know that URL's are property of their owners, right? Right?

  • It has come to my attention that your license to use the English Language has expired. Further speech on your part will be considered an infringement. Our lawyer will talk to your lawyer about this.

    Furthermore, your continued use of the English Language will be taken as evidence that your are using some form of DMCA-prohibited Circumvention Device, such as a brain. We will aggressively pursue legal action against the parties that distributed this "brain" to you. If you are engaged in the manufacture of these "brains", commonly through the mechanism known as "children", we will pursue legal action against you.

    In October of this year, mere possession of this Circumvention device will become illegal, and our attornies will be at the forefront of this legal opportunity.
  • by WillWare (11935) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:47AM (#822161) Homepage Journal
    All the references on Stallman's web page date from 1995-96, and his "Right to Read" story was published in 1997. There isn't a lot of more recent stuff on this topic, and I don't recall hearing much about it generally in the last year or two. It looks like the most recent locus of activity is www.public-domain.org [public-domain.org].

    Where is this debate at now? Has the Clinton administration's Evil Copyright Initiative been successfully thwarted? Enquiring minds want to know...

  • Did you notice the stupid html error on that page?
    http://vitalviewer.com/files/pubpartners.html
    at the bottom the link is :

    file:///Desktop%20Folder/partners.html

    Are you sure these people should be editing medical textbooks?

    This sound like something I would go to jail to protest.
    I taught myself EVERYTHING from books and libraries.

  • I think you've forgotten than Macs *CAN* Run Linux. Like Linux PPC [linuxppc.com]
  • by SpookComix (113948) <spookcomix@NOsPAm.gmail.com> on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:48AM (#822165) Homepage Journal
    You've heard of "Cops in Shops"; where police officers pose as civilians in stores? Some of them pose as the guy behind the register, busting minors trying to buy alcohol. Some pose as customers, busting stores that sell alcohol/cigarettes to minors.

    Now won't we have a dandy situation? We'll have "Cops in High Tops", posing as students in classrooms. They'll say, "Hey dude, I forgot my book, and I've got a huge assignment due, like, tomorrow, man! Can you, like, loan me your book?"

    You'll comply, because you're a nice guy, and suddenly you find that you're calling mom and dad to bail you out of jail.

    Dad : "What the hell did you do, son?"
    You : "I loaned a textbook to a classmate."

    Enough!!! This shit has to stop!

    --SpookComix

  • We each pick a book and memorize it. Then, we recite it to anyone who wants the information. As we grow older, we teach our children our book(s) and they teach their children...and so on. The information is always available and free, since even the government can't "password protect" your memory (short of using a bullet).

    I have a friend named Sontag who is very interested in this...he works for those who put the DMCA into action and now he's having second thoughts...

    Once I thought Ray Bradbury was a little out of touch...not so much now.

    BTW, just what is the ignition point of an e-book file?

  • by Robert Wilde (78174) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:53AM (#822170)
    Before everybody starts to scream about having these guys drawn and quartered, I'd like to remind the esteemed Slashdot audience about such thing as freedom, and in particular, the freedom of contract.
    ...
    It's funny how all the pseudo-libertarians around here are unwilling to let the market decide...


    Because your so-called "freedom of contract" has nothing to do with free market capitalism and even less to do with libertarianism. Particularly, as in this case, when the only aim of the contract is to restrict the normal free market for textbooks that would otherwise exist.

    The ridiculous thing is that there is nothing new in this attempted monopoly power grab. At the end of the last century, the major publishing houses attempted to destroy the textbook resale market by printing "license agrrements" in the inside cover of books stating the books could not be resold for less than their cover price. The Suprmeme Court, thankfully, found this for the restraint of trade and abuse of copyright that it was. Now, just because the books are released electronically the publishers think they can get away with this again!

    In a free market, the purchasers rights beyond first sale are sacrosanct - that's what it means to own something. A contract that restricts the market by dictating how a product may be used after it's sold is nothign more than a barrier to the invisible hand of the market. If you had to agree to use Mobil gasoline in your Ford SUV, not to sell MSFT shares for less than you bought them, or not resell your medical textbooks - either as a libertarian or a believer in the free market you should be up in arms.
  • by FreeUser (11483) on Monday August 28, 2000 @06:57AM (#822174)
    Discussion question: How do you explain this to business people (who run the country) OR build it into the economy?

    You don't.

    You let them tie their own rope and hang themselves with it.

    The United States, as the world's current sole superpower, is enjoying unprecendented economic prosperity. Unprecendented. In this climate I have found it impossible to discuss, much less make clear, a number of topics, all of which seem obvious to those of us who read slashdot and are informed on the issue, and are apparently unfathonable by most of those who do not:
    • The very real structural and systemic threats against our democratic system and the concerted efforts to undermine the same by certain corporate interests
    • The threats to our rights as citizens incorporated in new legislation such as the DMCA
    • The attack on our rights to fair use current MPAA and RIAA litigation poses, and the threat that in turn poses to free (as in speach) education and dissemination of information
    • The attacks on our privacy via key escrow, etc.
    • The profound political corruption at all levels that is allowing such an attack, unprecidented in both width and depth, on our very constitution itself


    Like the people of Philidelpha in the 1970s who refused to believe their mayor and police could do any wrong because crime was down (mainly as a result of their torturing prisoners and witnessess alike to coerce testimony and insure convictions, and the fact that they were terrorizing disadvantaged groups into submission), no one wants to hear negative or unsettling commentary on This Great Nation(tm) when things are so good. Add to that the specter of being considered "unamerican" or "unpatriotic" if you should be so uppitty as to criticize Our Leaders(tm), and you have an environment in which people are adamantly unwilling to listen to, much less believe, anything which even smacks of a pessimistic commentary on what is going on.

    I can't even get friends who are activists in other areas of life to listen (and you would thing, as politically active and motivated people, they would at least be willing to ponder the topic). The degree of denial and unwillingness to look at and consider evidence that runs contrary to the common meme of "America is the greatest place on earth bar none!" is probably impossible for those to grasp who haven't been confronted with it directly. It is truly remarkable!

    In a very real way we are being fattened for the slaughter.

    I am slowly concluding that you simply cannot make people hear what they do not wish to hear. Soon enough the consiquences of this unwillingness to be informed will make themselves felt.

    More importantly, if other countries are smart enough to persue more intelligent intellectual property policies, they will quickly become more competetive than the United States and economic fortunes will shift. Then, and only then, will Americans sit up and take notice.

    On the other hand, if the rest of the world follows America to hell, well then, we can all roast marshmellows over the brimstone together.
  • I collect old science-fiction pulps. The other night, I was reading through ``The Gods of Mars'' again (it's book 2 in the Barsoom series). It's the 1965 pocket edition. Among other things, the Copyright notice says that ``This book shall not ... be lent out ...''.

    The thing is, there's no way to enforce such a restriction on a physical book, and indeed later editions don't have the restriction. There's got to be a story there somewhere, if only one could find the right people to interview.

  • by jlg (215187) on Monday August 28, 2000 @07:03AM (#822181)
    The whole problem with this system is that it assumes that the only valid purpose of publishing is to make money by delivering information from the producer to the consumer. But publishing does more than that. It adds to the collective body of knowledge owned by humanity.

    I have dozens of textbooks on the shelf behind me, and I don't intend to buy another circuits book because Addison Wesley thinks it's out of date.

    The problem with the world wide web, and the reason publishers like it, is that information can be revoked at whim. Sure, CNN publishes hundreds of stories every week on the web, and you can access them quite a ways back. But what if CNN realizes that one of the stories it wrote last year was very embarrasing, but only because of some new information that has come to light. There is a strong incentive for them to remove the story from their website. (Remember they did this with a DeCSS story a while back, removing a very embarrassing link.) When a story is published on paper, the publisher can't recall the paper for a bit of editing. They have to live with their mistakes.

    If all information is published "WWW" style, this starts to look like 1984. Now books are moving in to this territory. Today they're on CDROM, tomorrow they'll just be downloaded by a proprietary browser. Imagine a world where the page in the history book you're reading today is different than it was yesterday. Maybe the publisher updated it with "value added" content, but maybe they just crossed out a paragraph.

    I recommend that people reject this kind of digital publishing. If publishers really want to publish a book electronically it should never be licensed in a way that limits the time that information can be used. If they want to put their information on the internet, they should use the Freenet, or some similar means to ensure that the information is not controlled by anyone once it has been released.

  • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <tms.infamous@net> on Monday August 28, 2000 @07:07AM (#822189) Homepage
    There is a legal reason why books aren't shipped with a EULA. The real question is, why is software?
    Because years ago, some software industry lawyer managed to convince a clueless judge that loading a program into memory constitutes making a copy.

    I'm waiting for someone to retcon this to books - "Your honor, reading printed matter creates a copy of the information in the reader's neurons, clearly violating my client's copyright. Therefore we demand that readers abide by this EULA..."

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Monday August 28, 2000 @07:18AM (#822203) Homepage Journal
    So, if you read the book, will the EULA prevent you from using the information in it to write a new book? I don't think this is quite what the founding fathers had in mind when they came up with the copyright stuff...

    I'd like to see some of the bigger IT companies come out strongly against stuff like this and announce publically that no programmer who ever worked on such a project will be hired. There's a point when you have to realize that your job is evil and find something else.

  • Because it won't stay "optional". Think about it. Book sellers will argue that stocking DVDs takes less space, and that more people will buy the $20 editions than the $120 ones.

    From there, you may -technically- have a choice, but that's all it'll be. A technicality. And once people accept that (which they will), that will vanish. After all, if you're not selling paper books, you'll either switch to DVDs or go bust.

    It's the same as has happened with personal computers. Anyone buy a new Oric, recently? Or see any stores that stocked -ANY- computers that were not Microsoft or Apple?

    Theoretical choice is no choice at all, unless it is also a PRACTICAL choice. Sure, there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but the damn thing keeps shifting! If you can't walk into a store and see comparable alternatives at a comparable price, then choice is vapor.

    If books, and other resources, branch into two paths - micropayments for reduced/non-existant rights, or vastly over-inflated prices for "full" rights, then one path WILL die.

  • by weston (16146) <.gro.lartnecnnac. .ta. .dsnotsew.> on Monday August 28, 2000 @07:27AM (#822218) Homepage
    As has already been pointed out in this discussion, vitalviewer's product already has some stiff competition (real books) that will probably edge them out, if there's no artificial restrictions made (say, laws or university policies forcing people to use vitalviewer).


    Now, however, what if we added MORE competition? The idea I have in mind is a "just-in-time" publishing company that would sell textbooks to students in the format that they want (CD or print). By doing one offs, and perhaps foregoing huge profit margins that publishing companies think they need, you might be able to get pricing competetive enough that students would prefer buying from you. If you could also make it more renumerative to those actually writing the textbooks, then you'd see some success. As to potential copying problems with the electronic format, you could provide some limited copy protection -- enough that what with your lower prices and all, most students would rather just buy the book than mess with trying to crack it.

    And then, when VitalViewer comes to your University and says: "Look! Electronic publishing!", the adminstration can frown and say "Hmmm. We already have that."

  • Here are a few select quotes from the company itself [vitalviewer.com]. This is the company that's going to make a shitload off of this stuff. This oughta give you the willeys... :

    Publishers are guaranteed 100% market penetration at partner schools who opt to implement the Vital Source system. Purchase of all included titles is mandated by the universities.

    In the VSTi model, students are mandated by universities to pay a yearly fee lciensing their reference curriculum.

    By implementing the VSTi system, however, universities contractually agree to require at least three titles per curriculum topic. Therefore, the number of titles used by students increases significantly.

    VSTi will control the Universities. The Universities will control the students. This shit will be mandated, and the Universities will have to sell every student at least three books per class!

    NYU (linked above) requires it's students to purchase an Apple notebook to use this system(and highly recommend purchasing it through the campus bookstore). In a year or so, the entire system will be required of the students!

    If they want this system to work, they'll have to make some serious adjustments. First off, they need to seriously slash the price of the books. They won't be able to complain that they have to keep them in stock anymore, so that cost is gone. They won't have heavy books, and therefore high shipping costs. They won't need massive shelf space. The publisher gets it's money from one nice source. All of these are good reasons to slash the prices dramatically. But what do you want to be that the price of books won't go down a bit? "These books are more convenient! They let you search! They are small! They fit in your pocket! You should expect to pay *more* for these!"

    But in addition to that, they're going to have to let students loan or give their e-books to other people, just like with paper books. There can't be a restriction on that, or this system will fail.

    We'll have to fight it if they don't make the system flexible, and beneficial!

    --SpookComix

  • by kevin lyda (4803) on Monday August 28, 2000 @07:59AM (#822250) Homepage
    did you read the link? did you miss the "mandatory for students to purchase" the textbooks? i'm not a big (usa style) libertarian fan, but i find eejits you don't even read before spouting off even worse...
  • by BeBoxer (14448) on Monday August 28, 2000 @08:03AM (#822254)
    Actually, I looked around some more on the companies web site. From the content there, they make it quite clear that their market plan is to force these books on the students:

    ---quote---
    Publishers are guaranteed 100% market penetration at partner schools who opt to implement the Vital Source system. Purchase of all included titles is mandated by the universities.
    ---/quote--- emphasis in original

    Later on, and this is the best part, it talks about how they make you license the book even if you don't need it:
    ---quote---
    Publishers receive a mandated, preset fee for every student for every title chosen by professors. Because the service is a global curriculum application, the fee comes in from each student each of the four years of their studies, regardless of whether they are taking that course that year.
    ---/quote---
    Nothing like paying for that advanced quantum physics books when you're a freshman enrolled in basic mechanics, eh?

    So I guess I'll be seeing you at the lynching ;-)>
  • by Shotgun (30919) on Monday August 28, 2000 @08:05AM (#822256)
    The people who have the information don't want YOU to get it, so they can monopolize their possesion of it and make money from it.

    This is the way of the world. Native Americans didn't have a concept of private land ownership at the time of European invasion. One day, a member of a nearby tribe was letting his horse eat in a field. The farmer who had fenced off the patch of ground took issue with the native's actions, and asked if he didn't realize that the land was private property. "Did you create the land? Can you make the grass grow?" was the reply of the slightly confused native.

    It's often said on /. that information wants to be free. Unfortunately, when it is free it has no monetary value. If anyone can go anywhere and do as they please, private land ownership becomes meaningless. In the same way, if no one is allowed to build fences around information and stake a claim to it, information property ownership becomes meaningless.

    Be very clear about it, dear slashdotter. Knowledged is being fenced off, and 'NO TRESPASSERS' signs are being posted. The powers that be will go to war, decimating anyone who stand in their way, to enforce these artificial boundaries in the same way that the Native Americans were decimated in times past. Since the ones in control have smelled the possibility of lucre in partitioning knowledge, it will happen. In a few years everyone will think you nuts if you say that things should be otherwise. (If I claim that no one should have exclusive rights to a piece of land, how much support would I garner?)

    You cannot stop the river, but you may be able to bend it.

  • by coats (1068) on Monday August 28, 2000 @08:25AM (#822271) Homepage
    How does this ("locked" DVD-disk "textbooks" that require a Mac Powerbook) fit with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990? Not everyone can deal with 72dpi on-screen text!

    Maybe this is an idea to use attacking the DMCA: Encourage your congresscritter to amend ADA1990 to include the following provisions:

    1. Reproduction/enhancement of an already-owned copy for purposes of dealing with an impairment shall be construed as fair use under copyright law.

    2. Any one who sells works with embedded technical copy-prevention measures (as described under the DMCA) shall be required to offer under the same terms and for the same prices copies enhanced appropriately for the use of impaired or handicapped customers.

  • by yakfacts (201409) on Monday August 28, 2000 @08:34AM (#822281)
    In the text, it says that all students are _required_ to purchase this copy of the book...
  • by aphrael (20058) on Monday August 28, 2000 @08:37AM (#822284) Homepage
    How does ANY person of limited means learn ANYTHING?

    When you hear politicians babbling about "the digital divide" in a way that makes no sense and seems free of context, this is *really* what they're getting at.

    What's happening here is that computer technology is providing a mechanism whereby information can be priced --- allowing market mechanisms into an area which previously didn't function as a market. Just as happened when barbed wire allowed the fencing off and marketizing of large tracts of land in the American west (and, before that, when enclosures allowed the marketization of tracts of land in England), there is something of a gold rush mentality --- speculative grabbing, basically.

    This is in its infancy, and it's still possible to find technological fixes to prevent it. But the *trend* is clear --- information and knowledge are going to be marketized.

    Certain economists argue that this is a *good* thing because it will allow the efficiency of the market to distribute information more ... uh ... efficiently. The counter-argument is that information, in a sense, has been one of the few great equalizers of modern society --- it's more or less free for the taking to anyone who wants it. Is that going to change?

    My bet is that as information is marketized there will be counter-forces which arise in reaction to its side effects, much as the public library movement arose in the late 19th century. That still won't be *ideal*, but ...
  • by interiot (50685) on Monday August 28, 2000 @08:40AM (#822290) Homepage
    • what does this do to future access of a work?
    In particular, the Constitution intends a published work to become part of the public commons after a certain time. Even if the time has becomed dramatically lengthened lately, the works would still go into the public commons. These e-books wouldn't ever go into the public commons.
  • I see a few other problems with this. What if you want to read your textbook in a place that is inhospitable to a computer IE a place with no power? Yes, the laptop has batteries, but does that mean I can only study for 2-3 hours until the batteries run out? Or worse, power receptacles will be at a premium now. Instead of sitting in a quiet cafe to study, you'll be fighting over the only two power receptacles.

    What if your computer dies (I own an iMac, I can tell you from experience that Apple tech support is VERY expensive and isn't that good at all). You cannot tell me that a stressed out student isn't going to drop their powerbook at some point. Do they have to wait a week to get it repaired? Hopefully NYU and other colleges that participate in this will have emergency loaner machines.

    What about if the disk is lost or stolen? I would assume that it would become more valuable to thieves once someone figures out how to decrypt them (and they will figure it out). Will replacement disks be offered?

    I read a lot of my father's college textbooks. I learned a lot by doing that. I still refer to mine a great deal. Will someone's bright little kid be barred from looking at daddy's (or mommy's) textbooks because they didn't pay for a password? Ok so these are dental texts. I assume this will eventually leak over to things like digital design and programming books.
    --
    *Condense fact from the vapor of nuance*
    25: ten.knilrevlis@wkcuhc
  • by sjames (1099) on Monday August 28, 2000 @08:58AM (#822303) Homepage

    Granted, if any attempt is made to force such textbooks on people, I'd be in the front rows of the lynching mob. Other than that I have no objections to having a choice between a $120 paper textbook and (hopefully) $20 time-limited DVD.

    Get the rope! From vitalviewer.com/files/pubpartners.htm l [vitalviewer.com]:

    Publishers are guaranteed 100% market penetration at partner schools who opt to implement the Vital Source system. Purchase of all included titles is mandated by the universities.
  • by TheDullBlade (28998) on Monday August 28, 2000 @09:07AM (#822314)
    It's half of fair copyright law: protection of the copyright holder. If you can resell copyrighted works, that cheats the copyright holder of his income. Wouldn't you, if you were an author, feel screwed by one person buying a book, then passing it on to 20 others?

    This isn't one-sidedly for the holder. Remember, book-passing has to be taken into account when setting prices.

    Unfortunately, I don't see any efforts toward the other, much more important half of copyright reform: shortening the term to about five years after publishing. Copyright, like patent, is supposed a temporary monopoly on one's own ideas. Most copyrighted works make most of their profit in the first year; many in the first month. If you aren't expecting to make a sufficient profit in 5 years, you probably aren't doing it for the money.

    --------
  • by hey! (33014) on Monday August 28, 2000 @09:13AM (#822318) Homepage Journal
    I don't think the problem is with the ability of capitalists to envision plus sum games. For example, the DMCA is supported by a consortium of interests who normally compete with each other, but realize that on the issue of IP they can work together.

    I think the problem of freedom of knowledge is more like many of the problems with environmental economics, where decision making processes break down because of (1) incentive for freeloading on the public good and (2) time scale. Discounting future income exponentially works really well in aiding decisions over short to middling time periods. For example, should I invest in a widget machine now or stamp them out the old way for a few more years? However over long periods like twenty years this discounts the future too heavily. If you plug the numbers into a spreadsheet that works very well for the widget machine investment kind of problem, it may well tell you that you really shouldn't mind living in some kind of burning-in-hell dystopia twenty years from now.

    The reverent attitude that some people take to the invisible hand scares me sometimes. The invisible hand is not a rational godlike creature -- it is a nonrational feedback mechanism in a complex system that happens to yield rationally optimal solutions to a certain set of problems (i.e. as distributing production resources for commodities in markets with near perfect information). It doesn't mean we can stop thinking about tommorow.

  • by bfields (66644) on Monday August 28, 2000 @09:53AM (#822335) Homepage
    For publishers, VSTi offers a content distribution model that
    • guarantees 100% market penetration at participating schools, --so students will be at your mercy--no sneaky going to the library, or borrowing a friend's book
    • significantly increases the number of titles students purchase each year,--more money!
    • significantly reduces overhead costs associated with manufacture and distribution of textbooks, and promises continued licensing of publisher materials through continuing education.--and all this costs you less!
    In the process the VSTi model
    • creates a copyright compliant environment on campus,--you won't even have to worry about fair use any more! Someone wants to photocopy a chapter of your book for a class presentation? Hah! They'll have to get your permission first....
    • gets rid of the need for used books,--You can make sell the same book over, and over, and over again.... And they'll have no first-sale rights, so they won't be able to pass it on to anyone else.
    • tailor-makes solutions to fit the unique needs of each campus. Work out precisely the most that the market will bear on each campus, and charge the most you can get away with! No-one can resell your books, so there's no opportunity for arbitrage--everyone pays through the nose!
    Sounds like a great deal for someone, but not for the advancement of knowledge....
  • by interiot (50685) on Monday August 28, 2000 @10:16AM (#822350) Homepage
    Article I, section 8, clause 8 [cornell.edu] states that:
    • The Congress shall have power ... To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;
    After the limited time, they don't have exclusive rights, so it goes into the public commons.
    • Oh come on. What actual evil have these companies actions resulted in?
    • Software EULAs
    • Stupid Patents that have slowed down progress
    • DoubleClick invading privacy
    • My.MP3.com getting sued for space shifting
    I don't mean to sound like a /. drone, but I truly think that companies will tromp all over citizens' rights if it is profitable enough.
  • by Ho-Lee-Cow! (173978) on Monday August 28, 2000 @11:54AM (#822387)
    Oh come on. What actual evil have these companies actions resulted in?

    Ultimately, loss of choice. You may not see it this way, but in places outside geek culture, where it isn't all about hardware and software and your next mp3 player, the world is very different. Try finding a quality piece of furniture or a decent set of dishes for less than an arm and a leg. Try raising kids. Try finding a car that seats six or carries equal cargo that gets 25-35MPH. Try being a single parent. Try meeting the insane goals of the college fund expectation.

    Is your quality of life actually less? No.

    It actually is roughly the same as ten years ago. The supposed prosperity for Americans is mostly for those who have a jobs that give them a lot of disposable income, which many, many, many lower income people don't. In most cases, families have to have two income earners or they simply cannot make ends meet. This is in part due to the pressure that the prosperity myth puts on people to buy things which they simply cannot afford or need, but also due to the fact that marketroids see themselves as entitled to the contents of our wallets.

    Consumer choice is something that simply frightens these people to death. Corps don't want us to have choices or think for ourselves. An informed consumer is a dangerous one--and problematic for their bottom line.

    Is the average Americans worse? No.

    See above.

    Have the size of libraries grown? Yes.

    This depends on your point of view. My local library has levelled off in terms of non-fiction. My personal collection has grown by roughly 10 times during the same period, mostly due to inter library loan.

    Is music cheaper than it was before? Yes.

    No. A CD costs about 50% more than it did 10 years ago. I bought the first 25-30 CDs in my collection for about 10 bucks a piece. Price fixing had more to do with it than anything else, but I don't expect the consent decree to do much about that, either.

    Have the costs of specific medicines and treatments gone up on the aggregate do the corporations? No, they've gone down, it's only society's expectations that have gone up.

    Tell this to all the people who leave the doctor's office and can't afford the 100 bucks in prescriptions. Patent medications are horrifically expensive, as is any doctor's visit. Cancer patients are sitting ducks. Let's not get into Buroughs-Wellcome and what they do to AIDS sufferers. Why do you think herbs, homeopathy, and other alternatives have sprang up with such vehemence? Why does CNN have an article about how people are buying animal medicines to treat themselves? I would say that your assertion here is misinformed.

    All these, and many more, mythical complaints, yet few provably bad results.

    I don't see anything about these issues as mythical, but maybe I am actually old enough and conscious enough to have noticed the last 20 years--where were you when CD technology was introduced? I was a freshman in college.

    There is one word for this: FUD.

    Or in the case of your assertions, simple, gross, unadulterated convenient fictions.

  • This thread is getting pretty close to offtopic, but what the heck.

    Software EULAs: The consumer does not have a choice. Every one that I've read disclaim all liability for everything. They all say that their program may do absolutely nothing, but it'll still be your fault for buying it. I can't think of an instance where a court decision was made on because of a EULA that I didn't agree with. However, I believe that if most consumers knew all of the things they are agreeing to when they open a software package, that they'd think three times before opening it.

    Software Patents: I'm not saying that companies are pure evil and should all be destroyed. I'm just saying that, given the chance to stomp over user's rights in return for money, they'll do it.

    DoubleClick: If consumers (here I go speaking for them again, sorry) knew that a human could view their surfing habbits and what catalogs they order from, they'd be a bit frightened. Most people have an expectation of privacy that doubleclick violated without telling them. Guess why DoubleClick didn't warn the people that were affected by it? IMO it wasn't because they thought the public didn't care.

    My.MP3.com: Revenue was not being taken away from the record labels. People had to buy the CD first before they could access it online. Mp3.com was allowing owners to access the music over the internet. Yes, they might have been making a profit from the extra feature, but ISP's also make a profit for providing access to someone else's content.

  • by quonsar (61695) on Monday August 28, 2000 @02:54PM (#822425) Homepage

    Dentist: "There, that isn't so bad, is it?"

    Patient: "ih uuuuuurts u astard!!!!!!!!"

    Dentist: "We'll have that root canal wrapped up in another minute.
    [turns to computer, sounds of keys tapping]
    "Hmmm. Say, you don't happen to know what a General Protection Fault is, do you?"

    "I will gladly pay you today, sir, and eat up

  • by David Gould (4938) <david@dgould.org> on Tuesday August 29, 2000 @09:03PM (#822496) Homepage

    Or buy a copy every ten years or so. [...] This is Very Scary stuff here. The idea is that the content (book) is now controlled by a company who can turn off the content because someone hasn't payed up in the last year.

    Reminds me of some hypotheticals that a former co-worker and I were tossing around a while ago -- I was trying to make the point that the capabilities and/or limitations of a technology can affect the de facto operation of a medium, setting parameters on it that do not necessarily correspond to the law and/or morality (big distinction, by the way), and yet these parameters come to be taken for granted, so that they are assumed to be part of the legal and/or moral nature of the thing, rather than mere side-effects. Whichever party is receiving the extra benefits comes to feel entitled to them, and then, when changes in the technology change these parameters, they protest. Here goes:

    Suppose that at some time in the past, paper and printing technology were such that books would deteriorate and become unreadable after some period of time (like before acid-free paper, non-fading inks, etc., but say the period was much shorter and more regular, i.e., that a book would last exactly five years). For some books that you only buy to read once for light entertainment, it wouldn't be so bad, but for anything that you want to have in a personal library, e.g., great literature or reference material like dictionaries and encyclopedias, let alone technical literature or journals, you'd basically have to replace everything peiodically, buying a new copy of the same book every five years. Basically, there would be no such thing as owning a book in the normal sense -- sure, the volume would be your property while it lasts, but you'd really only be renting the contents. All else being equal, the books would probably be somewhat cheaper, because you're not getting as much value. Publishers might even offer some sort of discount on the replacements, e.g., 50% off a new copy of the same title when you bring your old one to be recycled. They could do this as a promotion, to encourage you to replace your books, but this would be entirely promotional, there's not necessarily any notion that by buying it the first time, you had in some sense bought a right to have its contents available to you forever.

    Now, suppose an advance in printing technology makes it possible for books to last forever. It's most likely, of course, that publishers would just resist adopting the new technology (see DVD-audio). How about this instead: suppose someone invents a process that can be applied to a book to make it last longer (e.g., a chemical treatment to prevent the paper from yellowing, the ink from fading, etc.). In this case, people would go buy the chemical, treat their existing books, and never again need to buy replacements. Now the publishers would protest, arguing that "When you buy a book, what you're buying is the right to have access to its contents for five years; if you want to keep it past that point, you have to pay again," and they would try to insist that customers still owe them a payment for every five-year period that they own a book -- they might even argue that the books' deterioration serves as a copyright-protection mechanism, since it "effectively controls access", and try to have the chemical banned on the grounds that it makes it impossible for them to collect their payments. Customers would argue back, "No, we bought the book, to do with as we please. Before, we were buying a new book each time, not renewing our rights to the old one. The only reason we had to keep paying before was because of a technological limitation; you're not actually entitled to those ongoing payments."

    How does that sound? Maybe when you buy an Encyclopaedia Britannica set, they'd say that if you pay extra for the gold coating on the edges, you're not just buying a few grams of gold, or paying for the extra production costs, but actually paying for the right to own the books for a longer time. And no, you can't paint a gold coating on them yourself, becuase that would be violating their copyright.

    David Gould
  • by adamsc (985) on Wednesday August 30, 2000 @10:16PM (#822502) Homepage
    I find it interesting that the NYU links and some of the VitalBook links are all 404ed. Anyone want to bet that we won't be seeing hastily sanitized versions shortly?

"The pyramid is opening!" "Which one?" "The one with the ever-widening hole in it!" -- The Firesign Theatre

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