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.