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Patent Granted for System to Prevent Printed Textbook Piracy

June 8, 2012
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO—June 8, 2012—The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued patent #8195571 on June 5, 2012, to Joseph Henry Vogel, professor of economics at the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras. The invention prevents piracy and enables publishers to receive payment when textbooks are resold. Broad adoption of the system raises the possibility of a single platform across universities for all textbooks.

Textbook publishers are in an existential crisis. A survey conducted at the University of California-Riverside found that 74 percent of the students did not purchase any textbook. Publishers also compete against themselves in a used-book market increasingly nimble due to the Internet.

In 2007, Vogel met with Pat Schroeder, then president of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) to discuss his Web-based system. Schroeder believed that copyright software protection, known as digital rights management (DRM), would alleviate the problem. Today, hackers crack DRMs in record time and legal recourse seems hopeless.

According to Tom Allen, current president of the AAP, “Gor every rogue site that is taken down, there are hundreds more demanding similar effort. I can’t think of a more timely example of the need for additional tools…”

In Vogel’s system, publishers issue licenses free of charge to professors who cite a trademarked textbook in their syllabi. The license has two conditions: the course must require that students participate in a discussion board and the participation must count toward the final grade. With the purchase of a textbook, the student receives an access code to enter the board. In the case of a used book or pirated download, the student pays for the access code. No payment, no access code; no participation, get a lower final grade.

The patent recognizes that the system diminishes the freedom of professors to design courses. To offset that impact, claims 1, 6 and 11 establish that “a percentage of the students' purchases [will be distributed] to beneficiaries” who enhance academic freedom. In effect, textbooks that bear Principiis Obsta—the trademark for the Web-based system—will underwrite academic freedom through the royalties paid by publishers.

Vogel is passionate about academic freedom and doubts he would have undertaken his own controversial scholarship without the academic freedom that tenure affords.

Source: Joseph Henry Vogel.


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