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Patent Granted on Mandatory Digital Keys to Prevent Textbook Piracy 168

First time accepted submitter discussM tipped us to a story about a recently granted patent in which "a system and method preventing unauthorized access to copyrighted academic texts is provided in which trademark licenses, discussion boards, and grade content are integrated into a web-based system that aligns the interests of teaching professionals, students, and publishers while also enhancing the overarching academic mission to create and disseminate knowledge." Quoting Torrent Freak: "As part of a course, students will have to participate in a web-based discussion board, an activity which counts towards their final grade. To gain access to the board students need a special code, which they get by buying the associated textbook." But don't worry too much, from Ars: "Beyond the legal questions, other experts suggested forcing students to buy texts through such a system is unlikely to be implemented. Professors have few incentives to make it more difficult and to compel students even more than they already are to buy textbooks, digital or analog. (A 2011 survey from UC Riverside found that 78 percent of undergraduates 'bought fewer books, bought cheaper books or read books on reserve to help meet expenses.')"
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Patent Granted on Mandatory Digital Keys to Prevent Textbook Piracy

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  • Profs and books (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, 2012 @09:03PM (#40290903)

    They ought to ask how many professors bought all the textbooks they required as students, and never used photocopies.

    • As if we believe in the fairy tale that someone has gone all the troubles (and the associated costs) to file a patent RESTRICTING access to specific academic texts to only those who are authorized that THEY WON'T CHARGE ANYTHING ??

      They think we live in fairy land

      • by similar_name ( 1164087 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @11:03PM (#40291687)

        They think we live in fairy land

        I think they live in a fairy land. From the summary.

        ...enhancing the overarching academic mission to create and disseminate knowledge.

        The idea that protecting copyright helps encourage the creation process is at least a valid idea. However I don't see any way that restricting the ability to copy that knowledge somehow helps disseminate it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by davester666 ( 731373 )

          Yeah. Enforcing copyright laws is defined by restricting the dissemination of knowledge.

        • The idea that protecting copyright helps encourage the creation process is at least a valid idea.

          Maybe technically valid, but still completely wrong. For example if Terry Pratchett was not allowed to use public domain works as a basis for his own Discworld series, the Discworld books would either suck or not exist at all.

  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @09:05PM (#40290917)

    How come good free curriculum hasn't emerged? There are a few free curriculum projects out there, but they tend to have low quality, incompatible formats, and make it difficult for people to contribute.

    • by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @09:11PM (#40290953)

      How come good free curriculum hasn't emerged? There are a few free curriculum projects out there, but they tend to have low quality, incompatible formats, and make it difficult for people to contribute.

      Because there's not incentive for professors and other professionals to participate in the development of such. If you wanted it to happen, you'd make the professors' pay or tenure contingent on their contributing to the development of public-domain curriculum in their discipline.

      • by meerling ( 1487879 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @10:12PM (#40291287)
        I know two professors, one in math, currently working on open source text books at my local college. I know the math prof is looking for a stable book (not reshuffling the order of the problems and calling it a new edition), the ability to correct errors (some of these books have had the same blatant errors for over a decade), the ability to customize for your curriculum (the regular publishers won't even fix obvious errors, so nobody expects them to listen to requests/suggestions), and a reasonable cost (whatever printing costs if you don't have a laptop or something since $120 for a math book loaded with errors is INSANE.)

        There are plenty of free or open source textbooks listed if you search, and whether it's appropriate for your class depends on your requirements. Other than that, I can't say anything about the quality of all of them, only the half dozen I've reviewed which looked just fine, but the teachers hadn't gone through them yet.
        • I've looked through textbooks in english and composition, and they're not very useful because so much of what you teach is protected in some way. And the sort of things that can be published, grammar guides and such, still aren't all that great. This area of endeavor is in its infancy. And I'm glad to see so many younger people interested in it. I look forward to seeing you all invest your time and energy in helping to produce high-quality, open access instructional materials.
      • by supercrisp ( 936036 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2012 @07:32AM (#40293723)
        You don't have to make tenure and promotion "contingent" upon developing public-domain materials. You can just encourage it by allowing such work to count toward tenure. Such work is very time-consuming, especially if you're doing it for some form of publication because you have to make sure you're not infringing and that the work is near enough to perfect that it doesn't make you or the institution look bad in some way. All too often preparation of teaching materials counts for little or nothing, and the publication of online or free stuff or self-published stuff isn't regarded as counting for much. Frankly it often doesn't; it's just too easy for a lazy person to "publish" some twaddle as they look for promotion. So, in addition to allowing this stuff to count toward t&p, you also need some editorial oversight, which means you need some institution to pay for the people who will be doing that work, even if that "pay" is just release time.
    • by khipu ( 2511498 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @09:38PM (#40291115)

      There are plenty of good, free and low-cost textbooks, and many professors use them.

      But, given that students are willing to pay tens of thousands per year to go to college in the first place, a few hundreds dollars in books hardly make a big difference.

      • In my first year as an undergraduate in South Africa (where fees are probably fairly cheap compared to the rest of the world) I paid approximately $1000 for the year. I needed to buy 7 books overall, costing a total of approximately $350 (bought new). This was in 1997. All the books were imported and the prices based mostly on the US price, plus the usual healthy markup and taxes. So, yes! It makes a bloody difference. One book was more than a month's rent for me. The developing world sure could use some fr
    • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @10:52PM (#40291615)
      It has, the classroom method for instruction and knowledge is dead. It died when the internet came about. The thing is though, college is not about instruction it is about getting a piece of paper to get hired (or an experience).

      Just about every single skill can be learned for free online. Want to know about British history? Identify Roman coins? Learn C#? You can find that for free online. Unless you have a degree though, chances are you aren't going to make it past the first round of screening HR does.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You don't go to a four-year college to learn a skill... if that's what you're after, you're missing the point.

        Everything I've seen in open course ware teaches introductory material at most. Yes, you can learn C# on-line. But knowing a language and knowing how to work in a team or make high quality software come only through doing it. You can go through a trial by fire by working with an open source project, or go to a university and have a professor facilitate a project, evaluating you along the way and cor

        • by progician ( 2451300 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2012 @05:16AM (#40293297) Homepage

          You are right, but then it would make sense that Universities, instead of costing the price of a family house, would transform to a professional social network, where individuals with different skills could organize different study groups, and academic reference would be the list of workgroups with their freely available, freely usable published results, depending on the field.

          It is insane to see that while the cost of distributing information is rapidly falling, the costs of education is steadily growing.

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        Just about every single skill can be learned for free online.

        Nothing has changed except now you don't have to drive. Before the internet you only had to go to the public library. That's where I learned electronics in the '60s (that and hacking around) and computers in the '80s. Any good encyclopedia would give you a start on a subject, with cited sources you could use to examine the subject in greater detail. I probably read 500 books on computing (including the TTL Cookbook) before I had a real handle on t

  • Wow, nice. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    More DRM nonsense. Stop being so paranoid about piracy that you hurt your own customers.

    • In the original sense of the word, forcing someone to give you their money is textbook piracy.

  • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @09:08PM (#40290933)

    ...Free and Open textbooks for all their courses.

    School is PURELY a financial transaction, but schools want to fuck their customers good and hard. (I found working in a community college highly educational.) They want to make programs fit available funding, and Pell Grant farming is standard.

    The profits made on books are calculated as part of the profit of each program. They are NOT provided by the school book store as a convenience, unless you consider anal rape convenient.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ...Free and Open textbooks for all their courses.

      This is exactly what OpenStax College Physics [] is providing: a popular but out of print textbook that was picked up by a couple of charitable organization (incl. Bill & Melinda Gates, I admit) and republished under a Creative Commons license. I will teach 170 pre-med students from this 'textbook' in the fall.

      I do disagree vehemently with the rest of your comment!

    • What do you mean by Pell Grant farming?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Students can get up to $5500 per year in government aid depending on their need that they do not have to pay back. The government also backs loans at much lower interest rates available elsewhere. Once virtually everyone has access to large amounts of money for college, colleges can easily raise their rate and still have a large volume of students attending - and this is seen by the fact that almost every college raises their tuition and fees far in excess of the rate of inflation every year. Colleges pract
        • According to the NCES [], inflation has been most marked and correlated to Pell Grant availability within the for profit, private schools. Public colleges and private, not for profit schools show lower increases and less correlation.

          The canard that school loans cause tuition increases is another right-wing canard, true mainly because the for-profits are skewing the numbers. As usual, it is another right-wing smoke-and-mirrors assertion, where the right's solution (the free enterprise, for-profit colleges) actu

    • I don't know where you worked, but your statement doesn't reflect my years of experience teaching at four different universities and one community college. Every higher-ed institution I've worked at, attended, or considered as an employer had a bookstore that was run by an external vendor. The money from the books doesn't go back to the institution. There is sometimes a sort of kickback deal where a percentage of sales will go back to a specific department. I and many other _professors_ consider that shady,
    • In the United States, at public institutions, students are not paying customers, really. That's because, even after 30 years of cuts in public funding for education, the education at public universities and colleges is still mostly paid by the taxpayer. That's changing, slowly. Soon we'll be back to the good old days when only the wealthy can afford to pay or risk the crushing loan debt. Keep voting for "fiscal conservatives" so that we can more swiftly reach that new Gilded Age.
  • Course fees? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SurfaceMount ( 749329 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @09:10PM (#40290947)

    Whatever happened to just charging a fee for attending the course?
    Stop trying to make extra money through textbook "upsells". Be upfront and honest by charging the book fee as part of the upfront course fees and give each student a copy.

    • Re:Course fees? (Score:4, Informative)

      by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @09:21PM (#40291007)

      Unless customers DEMAND change it won't happen because book sales are highly profitable.

      College is a business. Business is war.

      • Re:Course fees? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Githaron ( 2462596 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @09:37PM (#40291113)
        When I was in college, I bought all my books online with most of them being brand new at half the price the college bookstore was charging for used. That said, most of the books were still ridiculously expensive. The reason colleges get away with their high book prices is because many of the students are getting their books paid for by the government or parents.
        • Yea, if I'm selling a widget for $5, and someone comes along and gives everyone $10 to buy my widget, then I am going to up my price to $10.

        • I try to buy online, but keep getting screwed by these specific versions. I often dont even know about the version until teh first day of class when the syllabus is handed out. So, if I take the initiative to find the book before class starts, I get the added bonus of buying it again for a code. In saving money this way, I end up not having the book for several classes, and getting to buy the thing twice. I dont know why the summary says that this is not likely to happen, as it has happened to me three time

    • by lahvak ( 69490 )

      You are (most of the time) talking about different entities extracting the fees. Tuition money goes to the college. The money you pay for a textbook goes to the textbook publisher.

      Back when price of textbooks were reasonable, professors would select textbooks according to their contents. Since in some areas there are many textbooks with comparable contents, publishers started competing in providing "perks" to teachers with their textbook: a test generator, an online gradebook, an online homework system e

      • by Fjandr ( 66656 )

        The money you pay for a textbook goes to the textbook publisher.

        Only partially true. Most colleges drastically mark up the price of textbooks, and the above ignores the vast quantity of used textbooks they purchase for 10% of cost and resell for 90% of new.

        It also ignores the practice of professors creating custom, very non-professional texts for their classes and splitting the profits with the college. These are texts which cannot be obtained anywhere else, and are frequently packaged in such a way that th

      • by Fjandr ( 66656 )

        Also, of the dozen or so colleges I'm at least passingly familiar with, all require professors to list at least one text even if the class is structured so one is not necessary. The better professors of those particular classes would inform the students on the first day that purchasing the text was optional even if the course guide claimed it was mandatory. This didn't help those who had purchased a new text and taken the shrinkwrap off before the first day of class though. Instant 25-30% deduction from the

    • by sdnoob ( 917382 )

      there are some colleges that loan out textbooks like a grade school or high school does, or that charge modest rental fees (a fraction of what even a used copy would sell for) so you don't have to buy them if you don't want (or can't afford) to.

      the reason that colleges don't just give them out as part of tuition is that tuition can be paid by scholarships, grants and other aid. it wouldn't really be right if students could sell those 'free' books, converting some of their financial aid to cash, to buy more

    • Doesn't that give you less flexibility as a student? Many people have pointed out that you can often buy books online, or from a friend who recently took the course much cheaper. You also might be able to share with a roommate. Some professors might make the book optional, or tell you that an older version is still OK to use. In addition, if everyone is given a copy, there will be little or no demand for resale. I kept some books from school, but I sold most because I had no reason or desire to keep th
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Not surprisingly, Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the Pirate Party, says he's also against such a system.

    "The notion that academics go to lengths to prevent the spread of knowledge comes close to sacrilegious," he wrote in an e-mail to Ars. "In particular, it is a complete conflict of interest between the profits of old-guard publishers and the real mission of academia—to spread knowledge as widely as possible."

    The high cost of education in general prevents the "wide spread of knowledge" as well.

  • Old news (Score:5, Informative)

    by Eightbitgnosis ( 1571875 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @09:24PM (#40291029) Homepage
    I'm in my sophomore year of college, and I've already taken half a dozen classes requiring an $80 online pass.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I'm right there with you.

      I've had several courses were all the homework was online. You could not pass the class without a code that came with a new textbook.

      Of course you could buy that code separately, but it cost half as much as the textbook itself. This is very similar to game companies using online passes to attempt to get rid of the used market.

      One other thing I should mention about all of these online homework systems. They SUCK. I have yet to see a truly good implementation of such a system. I'

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @09:25PM (#40291035) make it more difficult and to compel students even more than they already are to buy textbooks"


    Oh God... he was serious, wasn't he?

    Uh, for the record, my bro's French text was a) useless and b) written by the department head. A copy was ordered for each and every student, and they sat in the bookstore all year until the teacher was advised that no one would receive their grades until they were gone because, hey, how could anyone have gotten through the coursework w/o the textbook? Right?
    • The college told you that you wouldn't get a grade if everyone in the class didn't buy a text book written by the teacher? It sounds like you should have gotten a lawyer.
  • Anant Agarwal [] recently reported that at the course MIT 6.002 [] where textbooks are freely available for students, the textbook sales have gone through the roof. Publishers currently learn from such cases. This patent is complete nonsense. No teacher would make financial payments linked to grades.
  • One of the reasons textbooks are largely reviled in academia is their ability to turn students off, drain their wallet and misinform (in some instances) all at the same time.

    If the textbook industry implodes, I think celebration is in order. The quality and cost of education would likely improve.

    • You're forgetting that like the rest of the government, education seems to be heavily controlled by the copyright cartels. How the hell did we let these people get this much money and power?

      • the government [...] seems to be heavily controlled by the copyright cartels. How the hell did we let these people get this much money and power?

        Getting elected to U.S. federal office requires the cooperation of the national news media. The national news media have become co-owned by the movie studios. Therefore, the movie studios get to frame the discussion any way they want [].

      • You're forgetting that like the rest of the government, education seems to be heavily controlled by the copyright cartels. How the hell did we let these people get this much money and power?

        Because we've been giving our money to these people for over 80 years.Not to the artists. To the guy in the middle. Of course they are going to protect themselves: it's way too lucrative where they are.

        There's only ONE thing politicians need more than "campaign donations": votes. Unfortunately, in the US electoral system (first past the post) and the SuperPACs etc, this is going to be hard. But at one point the Internet generations will outnumber the previous generations...

  • by Dr. Tom ( 23206 )

    Ok, so textbooks have DRM now, and education takes place in an MMO
    style arena. So where are the cheat codes? Har. Anyway it's a format most kids
    relate to.

    "Hey you, stop texting in class!"

  • All that illegal learning kids are doing these days. How dare they steal all of that information you own that someone else discovered!

    • by Dr. Tom ( 23206 )

      Control the means of delivery and you control the content. We don't want students wandering aimlessly around the internet, after all, learning things like evolution and climate science.

    • Exactly what I thought -- as soon as I saw the phrase, "unauthorized access to textbooks," I knew something was wrong. Of course, from the publisher's perspective, and unfortunately from too many schools' perspective, the purpose of textbooks is to make money for publishing companies.

      We need a better way to distribute knowledge, one that is not based on maximizing the profit of people who have every incentive to restrict the flow of knowledge.
  • by _KiTA_ ( 241027 )

    There's not a single professor I know that would go for this. Especially the "web discussion" part being graded. It seems like a backdoor for publishers to try to co-opt or even replace the professors over time. "Don't hire a professor, sign a contract with us, we'll provide textbooks, grades, tests, the works, all you'll have to do is admin the system on your end."

    "Cloud Classrooms", if you will.

    Several professors do like the WebAssign style online homework systems, but only because TAs are at a premium

    • by mjr167 ( 2477430 )
      You assume proffessors are there to teach. Teaching is that annoying thing that gets in the way fo thier real job- research and publishing papers.
    • Yes, it is an attempt to make faculty obsolete. I interviewed for a professorship at a university last year that made this perfectly clear. I was told that I would be paid a very small amount for developing an online class ($2,300), that I would be required to do so as part of my contracted workload, and that all rights would belong to the university, and that others would teach the course after I developed it. I looked more closely and noticed that people were staying at this place for 3-4 years and then g
  • They do have a reason; kickbacks.

    1/2 the processors wrote the damned text book, so they have a vested interest in making student buy copies.

    • Yeah, because that few bucks you get on a hundred dollar textbook is really worth alienating all your students. The money comes when the textbook is good enough to be adopted by other faculty at other institutions. And check this out: a professor might well write a book that he or she thinks is the best book for the class. There's also a very high incentive not to write a crappy book and look like a dumbass in front of all your colleagues.
  • I hated this, and only encountered it once, in my Econ 102 class. We had to "buy" the online pass to view the online "textbook", which was really just a document wrapped in a flash applet, with "interactive" homeworks, that expired after 6 months. I asked the professor if he had another alternative, but he said I could always drop the class. Thankfully that was the only class I had to do that for.

    Most other professors, especially within engineering were more than helpful with either giving out the IS
    • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

      I hated this, and only encountered it once, in my Econ 102 class. We had to "buy" the online pass to view the online "textbook", which was really just a document wrapped in a flash applet, with "interactive" homeworks, that expired after 6 months. I asked the professor if he had another alternative, but he said I could always drop the class.

      Which i would have done, and perhaps even picketed outside the classroom.

    • I asked the professor

      Look at you... even now sheltering "the professor". Name and shame, my friend; name and shame.

  • I know that textbooks were selling(shrink wrapped, of course, with some sort of clickwrap EULA sticker) with a code printed inside that granted limited-term access to some sort of online component when I was in undergrad. And that was a vexing number of years ago. Thankfully, none of the professors actually bothered with the enforcement side of that bullshit; but the groundwork was all there and ready to go. Never mind the, less academic but no less trivially equivalent, emerging practice of selling cripple
  • by Dr_Ish ( 639005 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @10:43PM (#40291557) Homepage

    This seems typical of the world of publishing today. Many publishers are merely money making machines, with little regard for either students, or knowledge. Unfortunately, as publishers adopt more and more predatory practices, they end up pissing off both students and professors. There is one major academic publisher in my field Cengage (who operate under many other names), whose books I now refuse to use. They update editions every three years, doing little more than changing page numbers and changing the order of exercises. Each new edition comes with a substantial price hike and force me to rework sections of my classes. The result of this? I now have the equivalent of an on-line text I have developed myself over the years. So, they have lost the business.

    It is the very same publishing houses who are mean about sending us desk copies and charge us for them, if we do not adopt their texts. Again, they end up as losers, as there is no incentive to use their texts. They also get pissy when we sell the books that they send to us, without our asking. This again is silly. In the State in which I teach, professors have not had a pay rise in four years, so a few bucks to buy lunch was a welcome perk. Stopping this perk does not make us like them any more.

    That being said, not all publishers are like this. Some keep their editions for a long time and do not change much when they bring out new editions. A good example of this is Oxford University Press. So, when I need to use a text for a class, all the business goes to OUP. This is the correct way to do business in publishing. It should not be about quarterly results, but rather about building and maintaining long term relationships. The technological innovation described in the post is just yet another step in the wrong direction. Eventually though, publishers will have to work out the errors of their ways, or perish./p

  • rm -f `grep "system and method" `find /media/patents``

  • a highly educated workforce trumps any short term profits greed book makers can make. The fact that many subjects like Calculus have not changed in a very long time should make them at cost for printing the material. If book makers are not willing to do this then maybe the government should, it is in the countries interest.
  • by jbeaupre ( 752124 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @11:23PM (#40291841)

    Since patents are used to limit the number of people who can do something, having a patent on something stupid will lead to limitations on the number of people doing said stupid thing.

    The alternative is said stupid thing being a freely available technique that can be implemented at any time by anyone at no cost.

    • by azalin ( 67640 )
      Very interesting line of thinking. Reminds me of what the Bavarian government did with the book of a certain "author" whose soon expiring copyright they inherited in 1945.
    • by dkf ( 304284 )

      Since patents are used to limit the number of people who can do something, having a patent on something stupid will lead to limitations on the number of people doing said stupid thing.

      Think of it like a tax on stupid. "Sure, I'm happy to license this technology to you. All it requires is the small fee of $1000 per student per course, plus a minor administration fee per course per year of $25000. Just tack it onto your charges, which they'll have to pay in order to graduate. Profit!"

      The fact that it would lead to students not taking the course in the first place would even be considered to be a good thing by many professors with tenure...

  • Professors have few incentives [...]

    Until the book is written by that particular professor, who then requires its purchase in order to pass the class the professor is teaching.

    Happens all the time in US universities, so in some cases there is a financial incentive for the professor to require the purchase of a particular book.

  • Right to Read (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fjandr ( 66656 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2012 @02:57AM (#40292765) Homepage Journal

    Not that I'm otherwise a huge fan of RMS, but I'm surprised I haven't seen any reference to the "Right to Read" in this discussion yet. Given the direction US copyright and education are going, it gets scarily closer every day. []

    • by Fjandr ( 66656 )

      Oops, somehow had browsing set to 1, hence not seeing the couple ACs who posted the link...


    • I was actually hoping not to see this, as it has already been referenced on Slashdot far too many times and, as such, is boring, trite, and redundant. Please don't put this up again.

  • Maybe make textbooks cost less than what a student can pay for food over two months and they'll start buying more of them.

  • Many professors in universities, especially major research universities, do not necessarily have a say in what textbook they can get. In fact, there are very little choices as there are only three major publishers out there that provide senior-level text books. The decision on which textbook to use is made by the college board members as well as the professor.

    The textbook industry is very lucrative. It's like pharmaceutical companies, they have sellers going around pushing the text book, etc.

    I've taken s

  • This is for textbooks, how is this patentable?

"The following is not for the weak of heart or Fundamentalists." -- Dave Barry