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Textbooks and the Debate Over Access to Digital Content
posted by: Alix | June 12, 2012, 08:24 PM   

With the rise of technology, the internet, and social media, the constant stream of information has created a new global culture of information sharing. An educator in Wisconsin, for example, can easily access art resources from a museum website in Paris, or print a worksheet and textbook passage from a professional development blog hosted in California. The possibilities are endless and teachers are taking advantage of this accessibility. However, as authors and publishers come to terms with this new reality and its impact on profits, education stakeholders are sounding off on how to best share information and protect intellectual property.

In a new venture making headlines in the technology sphere, an economics professor has recently been awarded a patent designed to stop students from sharing textbook content, both off and online. Under his proposal, students could only participate in courses if they buy an online access code allowing them to use the course book. Similar to an access code used for software downloads, students would be tasked with obtaining a code for every source cited. Users could potentially receive a failing grade without one.

The system is designed to prevent "unauthorized access to copyrighted academic texts is provided in which trademark licenses, discussion boards, and grade content are integrated into a Web-based system." If implemented, the practice could potentially eliminate text sharing and collaboration, tools students and teachers heavily rely on in today's virtual landscape.

Reacting to the news, legal experts are highly skeptical that this patent will work under the current interpretation of the law. "So you might see students who share their textbooks on the hook for patent infringement and copyright infringement?" pondered Julie Samuels, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "That's not good news." Current law allows accommodations to the copying of copyrighted material when related to sharing or reselling textbooks for student use.

This issue is an emerging one for educators, particularly with the rise of technology and open-source content in the classroom. According to the 2011-2011 AAE Membership Survey, 85% of member teachers incorporate technology into their lesson plans, with another 58% supporting policy that would phase out textbooks for digital content. If restrictions are implemented, the use of these helpful materials could be severely curtailed just as educators are beginning to embrace them.

Attorney Julie Samuels found the issue concerning. "What's troubling is that as a society we should incentivize student learning and this patent does the opposite—that's troubling," Samuels stated. AAE Executive Director Gary Beckner shared the same concerns in a statement to reporters. "It's imperative that students have easy access to meaningful information and resources," Beckner stressed. "While copyright laws should be respected, we shouldn't be putting unnecessary barriers on critical information for students."

What do you think about the issue of textbook and online content sharing?
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