Should students lose marks for pirating textbooks?
A patent obtained by an American economics professor intends to curb sharing, photocopying and pirating of academic textbooks with lower grades for students who don't buy their own copies.
Textbook publishers who use the proposed system would require that classes include an online discussion forum to talk about the material. The catch? Students must buy a pass that comes with a new copy of the textbook, whether in print or in an e-book format. Failure to participate in the online component would result in a lower grade.
The patent, issued on June 5, says students who buy used copies of textbook wouldn't be locked out entirely; they can also buy a pass specifically for the online component at a reduced cost.
Joseph Henry Vogel, Professor of Economics at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras, intends for the patent to reduce piracy and photocopying of textbooks, earning the publishers more money to allow professors to publish more research, according to Slate.
"Professors are increasingly turning a blind eye when students appear in class with photocopied pages," writes Vogel in the patent application. "Others facilitate piracy by placing texts in the library reserve where they can be photocopied.
"A 'tragedy of the commons' ensues for the professorate: individual manuscripts whose legitimate circulation would have justified publication are not published which diminishes the prospects of tenure and promotion."
Others see it as putting the financial interests of book publishers over the education of students.
"The emphasis should be on student learning and their need for textbooks, not on protecting revenues for publishers," wrote Slate.com commenter tjaponte. "Textbook sales can't subsidize research, that's ridiculous."
"On the surface the idea might seem well-intentioned, but to proponents of an open knowledge society it goes completely in the wrong direction," wrote the editor of Torrent Freak. "If anything, the Internet should make it easier for students to access knowledge, not harder or impossible."
In response to "voluminous" email he has received citing financial concerns about the patent, Vogel wrote that the patent, titled Principiis Obsta, would allow publishers to "waive the access code fee for students from low and moderate-income families."
Should students lose marks for not paying for academic textbooks? Should publishers be able to demand a graded component for coursework and link it to a product it sells? Take our poll and share your thoughts in the comments section below.
(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on readers' responses.)
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