Textbook pirates have struck again. Nearly three years after publishers shut down a large Web site devoted to illegally trading e-textbooks, a copycat site has sprung up—with its leaders arguing that it is operating overseas in a way that will be more difficult to stop.
The new site, LibraryPirate, quietly started operating last year, but it began a public-relations blitz last week, sending letters to the editor to several news sites, including The Chronicle, in which it called on students to make digital scans of their printed textbooks and post them to the site for free online.
Such online trading violates copyright law, but some people have apparently been adding pirated versions of e-textbooks to the site’s directory. The site now boasts 1,700 textbooks, organized and searchable. Downloading the textbooks requires a peer-to-peer system called BitTorrent, and the LibraryPirate site hosts a step-by-step guide to using it.
Publishing officials say they heard about the site only after it was featured on a peer-to-peer file-sharing blog last week, and they are now are considering a response. “Steps will certainly be taken,” said Edward McCoyd, director of digital policy for the Association of American Publishers. “I’m sure publishers will seek to do something about this site.”
The founder of LibraryPirate, who refused to give his name out of fear that legal action could be taken against him, said in an interview Monday that he hopes that a groundswell of textbook piracy will force publishers to bring down the prices of e-textbooks, which he sees as unfairly high. “I want to bring about permanent changes to the textbook industry,” he said. “The exorbitant price of a textbook shouldn’t hinder students’ ability to do well in a class,” he added. “I believe there is a moral objective at play here.”
But Mr. McCoyd counters that the site’s action unfairly “penalizes the people who are producing the materials.” He said the LibraryPirate site exaggerates the cost of electronic textbooks, which he says are often 60 percent off the price of printed options. He pointed to a fact sheet on a Web site run by the publishing association, called Cost Effective Solutions for Student Success. It argues that the average student spends more each year on movie tickets than he does on textbooks.
The founder of LibraryPirate said he based his site on the popular site Textbook Torrents, which was shut down after legal threats from publishers. He said he is operating his site in Ukraine, where, he said, it does not violate copyright laws, and he said he keeps a backup running and plans to open it in another country if the original site gets shut down. The site makes some money on advertising, but its founder says he spends more on servers and a staff of two people than he makes in ad revenue.
Mr. McCoyd argues that the site is an example of why new legislation is needed to help protect publishers. Specifically, he said his group supports what is known as the Protect IP Act (S 968), which was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and awaits consideration of the full Senate.
Meanwhile, other Web sites trading e-textbooks have sprung up as well, and Mr. McCoyd said the amount of textbook piracy “continues to increase.” Just as publishers get one pirated textbook file removed, another version pops up elsewhere. “It’s still a game of Whac-a-Mole,” he said.