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On Reflection, Maybe I Was A Bit Naive....

In the comments to my entry about how useful the Sony Reader electronic book would be for law students, Anon made a good point:

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.


To which I now feel I might have been overoptimistic in replying:
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?

I'm pretty certain that worries about bar passage would have some effect on illegally pirating textbooks. But taking a look at what I've spent on books over the last few years, I think I might be a trifle . . . shortsighted in my response above. Any thoughts from other students?

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Dude, never add up the cost of law school! Ever!
I think a lot of that depends on the likelihood of getting caught. Law students are inherently conservative (not necessarily politically) and risk-averse, which lends credence to the point you made, but if the enforcement mechanisms aren't there (and visibly active) and the penalties sufficiently stiff, students might be lulled into thinking pirating is no big deal and not worry too much about the small risk of getting caught. Ultimately, students would be making a cost-benefit/risk analysis (as we often do) to determine whether the costs (getting caught, punished, and possibly refused a bar license) outweigh the benefits (saving $400 or so on books each semester) in light of the chances the costs would ever be realized. You're right that any anti-piracy software would be formidable (West and their ilk would have it no other way), but I feel confident that young and able hackers would find ways to circumvent the technology. There might also be some money in it for them if they decide to sell bootlegged copies of the digital texts to penny-pinched law students for cheap.
Copyright laws and policies are tremendously politically subjective things. It would be a travesty of justice if people were prevented from practicing law because they didn't conform to the law and policies du jour of that period when they were in law school. Yes, copyright is in a statute and laws are laws, but in the age of copyright cartels hijacking Congress to write those laws exclusively according to their interests it's worth cutting infringers a little slack. Especially since it's not like these are unambiguous laws with crystal clear, consistent interpretations that necessarily even foreclose students accessing and using books they didn't necessarily pay for (remember libraries?) Using the threat of non-acceptance to the Bar as a way to enforce conformity with one political viewpoint of what these laws should be would therefore be extremely unjust.
Considering the number of professors within a law school whose own books are assigned to the students therein, I don't think the school would be as inclined to cut slack there as it would be for students who, say, piss off the RIAA. Even if law professors mostly are paid enough in salary that lost royalties aren't going to make a huge dent in their income, they're nonetheless going to be inclined to enforce that particular hegemonic view of the law. Admittedly the only professor with whose book I've had close contact said that he could make more money in two hours of consulting than he would on the royalties, but that may have been due to its narrow readership and little original content (being composed mostly of others' copyrighted work).
I just don't want to read digital books. My eyeballs are fried enough from the constant laptop as it is (read: expensive corrective lenses for the rest of my life), and I'm not sure that our abused legal eyes could take much more...
3L: Seriously, you'd have to see the Sony Reader to understand, but it's not like reading off an LCD. There's no backlight, and it doesn't burn your eyes. That's what makes it so beautiful. I used one for about an hour, and if felt like reading a book.
Hello i write for the Daily Telegraph in the UK, Happened across your site when researching a feature I'm doing for our book pages. Would like to get your comments on the Sony if it suits you. need you to reply rather urgently. Thanks M

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