Sunday, August 09, 2009

DRM and the Demise of Textbooks?

Here's a provocative article in today's New York Times, showing that classic printed text books may be on route to extinction sooner rather than later, and there is a lot of money to be saved in this evolution:

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this summer announced an initiative that would replace some high school science and math texts with free, “open source” digital versions.

With California in dire straits, the governor hopes free textbooks could save hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

(emphasis added)

And that's just in California - where, as it happens, copyright ownership and "exploitation", as they call it, are considered virtually sacred.

And this is not just going to happen in K-12. The NY Times goes on:
Around the world, hundreds of universities, including M.I.T. and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia, now use and share open-source courses. Connexions, a Rice University nonprofit organization devoted to open-source learning, submitted an algebra text to California.
The better publishers will have to adapt. The less adaptable will probably resort to litigation and, in Canada, greater reliance on collective licensing - even when there's little or no basis for it. Don't except Access Copyright in Canada to go gently into the night as "open source" electronic resources in the educational and other sectors threaten their photocopy based foundation, which was never very solid anyway.

One great worry, of course, is that the promise of better and and cheaper text books and resources could be turned into an Orwellian nightmare if DRM is deployed in ways that could allow for censorship, revisionism, "memory hole" deletion, and other means of control by state or private interests. Other means could include the prevention of fair use (fair dealing in Canada), the prevention of cutting and pasting, the prevention of "read aloud" features (as Amazon has also recently done), the prevention of access to the public domain, and other excessive exercises of copyright.

The recent Kindle fiasco shows that all of this this is not only possible but probable.

This once again shows how we need protection from DRM much more than we need protection for it.


1 comment:

  1. Perhaps money-saving. And yet book study is far superior. The computer is a distraction box, especially for the young and even for adults.

    Try having teachers in class teach from a PC to students seated behind a monitor and keyboard (with all those buttons to push). Nothing would be accomplished.

    Rich Kuslan