|Anti-piracy device from the good old days|
While silly patents are nothing new, now and then, there are certain patents that seem to cross certain lines. A new patent granted by the USPTO to economist Joseph Vogel, professor at University of Puerto Rico-Ria Piedras, will restrict textbook sharing amongst students in the guise of attempting to cut down on piracy. The patent is designed to prevent “unauthorized access to copyrighted academic texts is provided in which trademark licenses, discussion boards, and grade content are integrated into a Web-based system.”
Vogel's solution to 'textbook piracy' is simple. As described in TF, "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. Students who don’t pay can’t participate in the course and therefore get a lower grade."
According to the filing, “The system implements a process by which any enrolled student who has not purchased the textbook will be denied access to a discussion board of an official site (‘Site’) of the system controlled by the patent holder,”
“Thus, a student who does not legally purchase the text will be unable to participate in the discussion board and therefore will forfeit that portion of the grade associated with it. It is likely that most students do not want to forfeit that portion of their grade and therefore will legally purchase the text.”
What happened to the first sale doctrine? For students that buy second hand text books will have to separately buy the code in order to access the protected sections. What about students who share textbooks? What about students who use books from the library? Vogel also complains that other professors are being too lax and leave textbooks in the library for students to copy pages from. But what about fair use?
I'm not too sure how many universities / professors will encourage such a system, since most people in academia like to encourage students and not place restrictions to learning (especially given the current financial ecosystem), but then again, Vogel is a professor too, so there very well might be more who will go ahead with this.
Having spent the greater part of the last 3 years looking into (legal) academia, I'm willing to go so far as to say that there are a considerable amount of 'required' course books which are simply unnecessary, unused, or have information which can easily be put together by searching online references. On top of this, its not very common for the regularly appearing 'new' editions of books to have proportional 'new' information as compared to the much cheaper older editions. Removing these, there still are a considerable amount of great textbooks, no doubt, but it seems unethical to force students into each buying a copy of even these books if they don't otherwise need/want to, by resting part of their grade on their ability and/or willingness to buy a textbook.
For once, I am thankful that, at least in the legal education sector (which is the only one that I have first hand knowledge of), even India's top law schools aren't comfortable with online forums for their students such as those that are common in USA and UK - for it means that even if such patents are granted here, it will pretty much be meaningless.
P.S. While some professors are filing patents for gaining more control over knowledge, others like Prof Amy Kapcyznski and Gaelle Krikorian are publishing (for free, digitally) great works such as "Access to Knowledge in the Age of Intellectual Property" - a work I'd recommend Prof Vogel reads.
Hat tip to Danish Sheikh of ALF.