Duke Professors Looking To Make Legal Texts Affordable; Kicking Off With Intellectual Property Law

from the make-it-so dept

James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins of the Center of the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School have recognized what many people have: the academic publishing world is insane. Textbook pricing is generally insane, in part because the people who make the decision (the professors) are not the people doing the buying (the students), meaning that the buyers have little to no choice in what they buy. That enables the publishers to jack up the prices to absolutely insane rates. This even includes legal “casebooks” and “statutory supplements,” which are often composed of mostly public domain material (or, legal filings where the person who put together the book had no authorship). So Boyle and Jenkins are working on an open coursebook for intellectual property, which looks like it’s going to be fantastic.

To kick it off, however, they’ve now released an Intellectual Property Statutory Supplement, which basically has the text of various relevant laws and international agreements concerning intellectual property in the United States. A somewhat equivalent book that many law schools use will run you over $50. But the Boyle/Jenkins statutory supplement is free to download, or available for print-on-demand at cost (around $10) for law students who need paper copies and can’t bring electronic copies into classrooms. As they note in the announcement about this project:

We are motivated in part by the outrageously steep cost of legal teaching materials, (and the increasing restrictions on those materials ? such as the removal of the right of first sale). This book is intended for use with our forthcoming Intellectual Property casebook (coming in the Fall) but can also be used as a free or low cost supplement for basic Intellectual Property courses ? at the college, law school or graduate school levels. Whether or not you buy it, the free download will at the very least gives you a statutory reference book for those times when internet access is unavailable, and you just need to scratch that intellectual property research itch. The book is also available at cost of production ? about $10.50 ? as a handsomely covered paperback. Most of the current Intellectual Property Statutory & Treaty Supplements are $45-$50.

As you may recall, just a few months ago, we wrote about some well-known publishers of legal casebooks trying to undermine first sale rights by requiring students to give back books they bought in exchange for access to a digital copy (which may or may not stay online). It’s good to see folks like Boyle and Jenkins step in and recognize that there’s more to be gained by sharing knowledge and information, rather than seeking to lock it up. I hope other professors will follow suit.

Oh, and as a bonus, you owe it to yourself to read their posting on Thomas Macaulay’s famed 1841 speech about the dangers of copyright maximalism. We’ve quoted from it at times, and the famous line from it is usually how “the effect of [the copyright] monopoly generally is to make articles scarce, to make them dear, and to make them bad.” However, the entire speech is worth reading, and here they highlight a warning against copyright maximalism, in which he notes that it will lead to less respect for the law. Remember, he was saying this in 1841. Fairly prescient, huh?

At present the holder of copyright has the public feeling on his side. Those who invade copyright are regarded as knaves who take the bread out of the mouths of deserving men. Everybody is well pleased to see them restrained by the law, and compelled to refund their ill-gotten gains. No tradesman of good repute will have anything to do with such disgraceful transactions. Pass this law: and that feeling is at an end. Men very different from the present race of piratical booksellers will soon infringe this intolerable monopoly. Great masses of capital will be constantly employed in the violation of the law. Every art will be employed to evade legal pursuit; and the whole nation will be in the plot? Remember too that, when once it ceases to be considered as wrong and discreditable to invade literary property, no person can say where the invasion will stop. The public seldom makes nice distinctions. The wholesome copyright which now exists will share in the disgrace and danger of the new copyright which you are about to create.

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Comments on “Duke Professors Looking To Make Legal Texts Affordable; Kicking Off With Intellectual Property Law”

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Intellectual Property

I thought you weren’t going to call it “intellectual property” any more, because it isn’t property, and it isn’t even very intellectual.

(1) I don’t believe I’ve ever said that. I believe in the only discussion I ever had about it (years ago), I noted that none of the other suggested terms were good replacements. And, for whatever it’s worth, people know what you mean when you use the term.

(2) Kind of impossible to not use it here when it’s the title of the damn book.

John Snape (profile) says:

The law shouldn't be locked up

I’ve been trying to get the state of California to agree to let me publish the California Code of Regulations. All I get is the runaround from them. Section 11344.7 of the Government Code says it is freely available for anyone to print and distribute it, but as soon as I brought this up, they refused to answer any more of my emails.

I’m thinking of just printing it and seeing what they do.

I started compiling the state laws and selling them on lulu.com and they sell pretty well. Plus they are much cheaper than Thompson-West’s versions. I don’t do anything but take the plain text files and format them into books, so there’s no original content from me, and I’ve already had several police academy cadets ask where they could buy copies. The state could do this much cheaper (they sell the Vehicle Code for $8) but they don’t want to do it.

P.S. Thank you, Carl Malamud, for being a hero!

Anonymous Coward says:

in part because the people who make the decision (the professors) are not the people doing the buying (the students), meaning that the buyers have little to no choice in what they buy.

Maybe in part, but I would argue that most of it is due to the mergers of textbook companies and universities contracting out their bookstores. I actually don’t have much say in the textbook I assign. My university makes me assign a textbook for my class; I cannot just do without. And there are 3 possible choices, because there are 3 textbook publishers (technically, there are about 8, since each one produces two or three textbooks for my courses; but it isn’t like they are priced any different). So I can screw a student with Option A, B, or C (maybe with Sub-Option 1 or 2 thrown in for variety), but not screwing them is not a valid option if I would like to pay rent this month.

I do put the ISBN number on my syllabus so students can go internet shopping if they want. However, any kid on financial aid is required to buy their textbooks from the onsite bookstore. Said bookstore is not owned by the university, but by a megacorp subsidiary. They have exactly zero concern for the university – and it shows. They routinely “upgrade” my textbook selection to the more expensive option, tell students that a book I never even ordered is required for my class, and other shenanigans that would make a carnie blush with shame. And I have basically no leg to stand on to stop them (short of telling students to take stuff back, which the bookstore resists like Filipino jungle-fighters) since they and I do not share a boss anymore.

It isn’t like I sit at my desk masturbating furiously at the thought of making Bedford St Martins bottom line rise – blame the guys gouging with the “three minor typo corrections and a new chart, so raise the price $20” new edition crap, and the guys selling to a captive audience with mandated income; whaling on me is like beating the shift foreman because the boss’ idiot son found the “Raise Quota” button and left a brick on it over the week-end.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

How sweet that some profs are concerned about the cost of textbooks ($$). I wonder if they plan to address the cost of tuition ($$$$), which makes the cost of textbooks look modest in comparison.

One of the most ridiculous trolling techniques when you find out someone is doing something good that is within their power is to knock it down because they’re not also doing something totally different not in their power.

It’s a cheap rhetorical trick of generally small minded individuals.

In the meantime, the whole bit about how ridiculously high tuition is… isn’t entirely accurate:


Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I will ascribe your reaction to the fact you are unfamiliar with our system for legal education.

You can ascribe it to whatever you want, no matter how ignorant you may be about what I am and am not familiar with. But it doesn’t make your original any less ridiculous.

Tell me, what you have done to reduce the poverty of starving children in Africa?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

If you had even a modest amount of familiarity with legal education financials it would likely come to the fore in your articles/comments. Thus far nothing appears to me to have come to the fore.

And yet you still refuse to tell me what you’ve done to reduce the poverty of starving children in Africa? Or how about the Ebola crisis? What are you doing to stop that?

I mean, really, it’s nice that you’re concerned about this small matter of law school tuition, but, really, if you’re not solving these other matters, why should I care?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

If you had the slightest clue about legal education practices and financials you would understand why I view it ironic that some persons in legal academia are making a stab at reading materials costs that they and their colleagues have helped soar to stratospheric levels.

I have done nothing to create this unsatisfactory state of affairs, just like I have done nothing associated with your silly questions.

Hint re financials…the substantive law that must be assimilated as it will constantly arise throughout one’s legal career requires about 3 semesters of a moderate/modest academic load, and yet law schools have settled by and large on 3 year JD programs. Small wonder why the costs of a legal education have risen to absurd amounts.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

The casebook will be free too

From the download page:

Yes, but this is just the statutes and treaties. Fat chance you are going to give your casebook away free too!
Actually, we are. That will be under a CC BY, NC SA (a license that requires attribution, permits any non commercial use and tells those who modify that they must share the freedoms they were given.) It will be free to download and also available in a low cost print version — probably around $30, given its length, which would be about $130 cheaper than the other Intellectual Property casebooks.

Glendon Gross (profile) says:

Cost of Textbooks

I am very happy to see that you put out this book. As an interested laymen I downloaded my copy before even finishing the article. Thanks for making it available!

Has anyone considered the issue of conflict of interest that exists when professors require their own book? Several of the required textbooks that I purchased while an undergraduate were very shoddy and poorly written, but they were nevertheless required by the professor/author. With all the cuts in funding to state education, I can’t fault the professors from trying to pad their own income, but it cheapens knowledge acquisition for everyone and bypasses adequate peer review of textbooks. Whatever happened to the awareness of the need for intellectual competition in the marketplace? A conflict of interest caused by a textbook monopoly doesn’t help the student or the professor.

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