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An Almost Perfect Technology

Too late for my academic years, Sony is finally releasing its e-ink Reader in the United States. The older generation argues that this won't replace paper (TCS) or gripes about DRM (Instapundit), but I think they're just being spoilsports. The technology is terrific: the text on a Reader looks remarkably close to paper. I an e-Libre (the Japanese version of the Reader, available in Japan two years ago): after installing a Japanese-English dictionary, it becomes a very easy way of reading books slightly beyond one's skill.

For law students, the benefits of an electronic book are even more obvious: imagine how much easier life would be if we carried all three years of our textbooks in a small, lightweight device. The lecture halls here at Columbia seem positively designed for such a device. During Securities Law, I'm forced to squeeze a Lord of the Rings-sized casebook, a larger statutory supplement and my notebook computer onto desk space smaller than a serving tray from a Bonanza steakhouse. If I were Sony, the first content providers I'd be contacting for license agreements would be Foundation Press and Aspen Publishers.

I suppose I should count my blessings. By the time I have disposable income such that I'll feel comfortable buying another $400 tech toy, Sony will have come out with the next generation of Reader.


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That's wicked cool. I hope that it replaces paper in *some* circumstances. Like, say, the ones you mention... (And people call me a Luddite? Bah!)
As much as my back would appreciate it, I'm not sure I would want to use this in the casebook context quite yet. I rely too much on highlighting and margin notes. (Perhaps the "Mark" button at the bottom of the unit allows for "highlighting", but without a keypad it seems unlikely that you can append notes to selections of text.) If I've missed this ability in the features list, forgive me.
There's certainly a lot to be said for the new technology. Digitized texts save paper (read--fewer trees we have to chop down in the rain forests), spare our backs (read--fewer visits to the chiropractor), and bless us with shorter lines (read--fewer dirty looks from underpaid law school book store register clerks with watch timers set to ring at 5 p.m., the start of favorite bar's happy hour). I wonder, though, whether these texts will quickly make the transition to paperless, digital format. Digital content is great for the user, but problems of piracy and copyright infringement loom large for the publisher and copyright holder. I suppose if the piracy protection were ironclad, we would be OK, but it seems that almost as quickly as new anti-piracy schemes are cooked up, ways to overcome the protections are crafted. At least if I were the publisher, all of this would make me think twice before digitizing all or part of casebook content.
Anon: If I recall correctly from looking at the Japanese model, there's some reasonably robust anti-copying software involved. But I think law school textbooks would have even better protection. Each law student is told when we start school that our personal ethical record will eventually form part of our bar acceptance. Given the high price of tuition and the three years of lost wages, would a student really make illegal copies of textbooks if they felt it might prevent them from passing the bar?
You don't need to spend $400 for a silly dedicated ereader when you can just spend $100-200 on a Palm. I use mine to read books all the time and I love it. Being able to carry a big pile of books around in your pocket is incredibly cool. I agree that textbook publishers are going to resist converting their products to this format, but I hope we can figure out a way to overcome their objections. It's just too useful to let IP issues prevent it. My own hope is to someday have all of Wexis in my pocket. Currently if Wexis was not a for-profit service we could all download their databases to our computers and use them even if we didn't have an internet connection. Imagine having every case or ALR article, etc., at your fingertips anywhere, anytime. Yeah, I'll keep dreaming...

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