Publishers see Web sites like Textbook Torrents, which offer free downloads of textbooks without authorization, as part of a growing problem of piracy that could potentially threaten their industry. But the founder of Textbook Torrents calls his actions “civil disobedience” against “the monopolistic business practices” of textbook publishers.
The site’s founder, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of legal action against him, talked to The Chronicle over an Internet phone call last night and defended his creation, though he described it as operating in a “legal gray area.” He said he is an undergraduate at a college outside of the United States, though he would not name the institution or country, and that he operates the Web site from there.
His biggest complaint: that textbooks are just too expensive, and that prices climb each year. “We’re showing both students and textbook publishers that this isn’t acceptable anymore,” he said. “A lot of users are absolutely fed up with the system.” He said he views the 64,000 registered users of his textbook-download site as votes against that system.
The site started last January, but except for an author or two writing to ask that their books be removed, no one had complained until recently, he said. Last Friday, after The Chronicle began asking publishers about the site, Pearson Education sent the site a note demanding that 78 of its titles be removed. The site quickly complied. “We don’t have the legal muscle to fight them,” the founder said. But he added that he will press on with the site, even if such takedown requests continue. “I certainly have no intention of going anywhere.”
The site takes in some money through banner advertising, and some users have made donations, but he said Textbook Torrents is not profitable, and that the goal is simply to break even rather than to benefit financially.
The Chronicle requested an interview with officials at Pearson to talk about the site. In response, they issued the following statement by LaShonda Morris, a Web security specialist: “Pearson does monitor this and other potentially infringing websites. We have contacted this particular site and they have complied with our request to remove our copyrighted material.”
Reactions to the Web site in a Wired Campus discussion this week have been mixed.
“Perhaps if the textbooks were not $120 for mediocrity, there would be no need” for the site, said one commenter.
Others, however, called downloading textbooks theft, plain and simple. “Let’s just have anarchy where nobody pays for anything they deem ‘too expensive’ priced by the ‘rapacious textbook publishing [or any other] industry,’” said one participant in the discussion. —Jeffrey R. Young