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August 7, 2005
Cracking the Books
Princeton University, intellectual home of Edward Felten and Alex Halderman, has evidently begun to experiment with DRM'd textbooks. According to this post, there are quite a few digital restrictions being managed:
- Textbook is locked to the computer where you downloaded it from;
- Copying and burning to CD is prohibited;
- Printing is limited to small passages;
- Unless otherwise stated, textbook activation expires after 5 months (*gasp*);
- Activated textbooks are not returnable;
- Buyback is not possible.
There an official press release from the publishers for download here
. It talks up price discrimination as a feature -- cash-strapped students won't have to pay as much for hobbled textbooks that disappear from their computers and can't be returned or resold to recoup costs. Isn't that nice?
I'm envisioning students taking Internet law and technology classes conducting their own experiment with these textbooks: documenting the ways they block the traditional activities associated with learning and scholarship.
Update: Professor Felten, who has been deluged with requests for comments: "First, a correction. As far as I can tell, Princeton University has no part in this experiment. The Princeton University Store, a bookstore that is located on the edge of the campus but is not affiliated with the University, will be the entity offering DRMed textbooks. ...
In any case, I don't see a reason to object to the U-Store offering these e-books, as long as students are informed about the DRM limitations and can still get the dead-tree version instead. ...
I don't object to other people wasting their money developing products that consumers wont want. ...The problem with DRM is not that bad products can be offered, but that public policy sometimes protects bad products by thwarting the free market and the free flow of ideas. The market will kill DRM, if the market is allowed to operate."
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