By Eric Pettifor
I was chatting with a friend about the high cost of textbooks, and he recalled a young woman of his acquaintance from his university days who made some extra cash by selling photocopies of textbooks. I didn’t ask how she did this. Did she hang around on campus wearing a big raincoat lined with illegal photocopies going “Psst, wanna buy the psych 240 text? Only $40, less than half what the bookstore is charging”? Or perhaps she had a table in a smoky corner of the campus drinking establishment and people would pass her an envelope of cash and the name of books to be copied.
We could do the story of Textbook Tammy as a movie in the film noir style. She is wanted in 20 states for copyright infringement, and is top of the FBI’s most wanted intellectual property infringement list. We could fit it to an appropriate formula, with lots of danger and exciting escapes from federal agents, but if we showed the photocopying at all, it would be in a montage that lasted less than a minute. That montage would represent hours and hours and hours of photocopying, and illustrate that Textbook Tammys have never been a real threat to the university textbook publishers. On a per hour basis, their operation simply wouldn’t be profitable enough to justify the extreme monotony of copying books on a flatbed copier or scanner.
Today, of course, duplicating books is a piece of cake for a large organization like Google, which can afford automated page turning scanners in the five figure range. But that sort of kit is out of Textbook Tammy’s range. Does this age of high tech wizardry have nothing to offer her and other villains seeking to make or save a few bucks off the ridiculous price of textbooks, perhaps in the process doing damage to the spines of the source texts? In the end is low tech print the best form of DRM — totally open, but a royal pain in the arse to reproduce?
Daniel Reetz to the rescue! Turns out you can make a book scanner from odds and ends and garbage you find lying around! Granted, it doesn’t automatically turn the pages for you, but something like this should be in every university library — so much better for books and journals than a flat bed copier or scanner.
DIY Book Scanner Introduction and Motivation from Daniel Reetz on Vimeo.
In making the plans available, Daniel appears to have started something of a movement, the hub of which appears to be the web site http://www.diybookscanner.org/. It has been apparent for some time now that digitized information “wants to be free,” but with this tech in the hands of legions of do-it-yourself types . . . well, let’s just say that if publishers are concerned about Google digitizing everything, their concern may be misplaced.
G-MAN #1: Damn it, Textbook Tammy’s given us the slip once again!
G-MAN #2: Don’t worry, she’ll show up again on some campus somewhere. She’s a bad penny.
[Shot of Textbook Tammy driving on the highway in her little MG convertible, cigarette hanging out of her mouth. ]
G-MAN #1 (voice over): I don’t know if it even matters anymore. With this crazy new technology, what if other kids get the same idea?
G-MAN #2 (voice over): My god, a whole generation of Textbook Tammys!
[Shot from behind of Tammy’s MG driving down the highway into the sunset.]