The college student tradition of sharing or selling used textbooks could come to a screeching halt based on a professor's new patent. That patent would require students to buy access codes with their textbooks to join in mandatory online discussion boards — and failure to participate would mean lower grades.
A press release first announced the patent filing's approval as U.S. Patent No. 8195571 on June 5. It described the invention by Joseph Henry Vogel, an economics professor at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras, as a way to prevent textbook piracy and allow publishers to earn money from resold textbooks or pirated e-book versions.
"In the case of a used book or pirated download, the student pays for the access code," according to the press release. "No payment — no access code — no participation — lower final grade."
No U.S. universities or publishers have put the patent into practice just yet, Slate pointed out (although one publisher has reportedly expressed interest). But plenty of readers on websites such as ZDnet.com and TorrentFreak greeted the idea with anger over the added costs on top of ordinary college tuition.
The almost uniform outrage led to a second press release which acknowledged the patent idea's deep unpopularity. It added that Vogel hoped textbook publishers would waive the access code fees for low and moderate-income families.
But the idea still looks out of touch in an era when major universities such as Harvard and MIT have begun offering free courses (and course materials), and when many U.S. college students and parents have already become disenchanted with expensive college tuitions and heavy debt.
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