Stallman's "Right to Read" as business plan?

Posted 25 Aug 2000 at 20:32 UTC by dmarti Share This

Somebody has implemented the password-protected textbooks from "The Right to Read" by Richard Stallman.

Vital Source Technologies is publishing e-book style medical textbooks on DVD with a catch -- it's "dedicated to the protection of intellectual property" and "guarantees 100% market penetratoin [sic] at participating schools."

Will students really put up with this?


damn..., posted 25 Aug 2000 at 20:49 UTC by rooneg » (Master)

wow that's a painfully bad idea...

what kind of idiot thinks time limited textbooks are a good thing?

while i've had my share of crappy textbooks, i still keep a large number of them around, just in case i need to look something up. and worse yet, these are medical textbooks! personally, i want my doctor to be able to go look something up in a textbook if he doesn't know it off the top of his head. yeah, it'd be nice if he did know it, but there should always be the fallback option...

Lets have the Universities make the Students pay even more!, posted 25 Aug 2000 at 21:18 UTC by jmg » (Master)

Hmm... Gotta love what they have on their page. For the publishers one of the key features is: `ignificantly increases the number of titles students purchase each year', and then for the University to LOOSE money: `gets rid of the need for used books'. I'm not sure on the exact financials, but I'm sure that one of the ways that University books stores actually stay afloat is the profit that they make off of the used books. Haven't you ever noticed the 50%+ markup on the same book after you've sold them back?

Of course, this all depends upon the student having a notebook computer. And how does it prevent the copyright infringement by printing it out?

It doesn't talk about how the encryption and protection works, but it must be there.

Though the thought of having all the medical texts and stuff on a single DVD is quite nice. I'm sure most medical students would go for it, but beyond a few select areas of study, I don't think it will do much good.

Ouch, posted 25 Aug 2000 at 23:17 UTC by mobius » (Master)

I assume that the publishers will keep the prices through the roof, even though they won't have the excuse of used texts lowering their profit margins. I'm also assuming that they'll make it so you _need_ the latest copy in order to use the text.

Yes, I'm a little bit bitter at textbook publishers. On the bright side, DeCSS just became a whole lot more popular among med students.

Negative-sum games, posted 26 Aug 2000 at 04:59 UTC by lilo » (Master)

I'm not surprised that this happened in the medical industry. Medicine in the US is collusive and bureaucratic.

Bureaucracies are created when an organization with a large revenue stream is largely unaccountable for the money it receives. In the US, insurance companies are regulated by the 50 states, and in each state the bodies doing the regulation provide a limited number of companies a state franchise to do business. This produces a convergence of business practices between the franchisees (whether it's really "collusion" makes very little difference in practice).

Insurance companies achieve independence from control by means of a regulatory phenomenon usually referred to as the "revolving door." In the case of the insurance business, as in so many others, the easiest place for a governmental agency to find industry experts is within the industry itself. As a result, there is constant traffic from management in the insurance industry to the insurance regulatory boards and back (the "revolving door"). Insurance companies find common cause in lobbying and the very process of bringing them together on regulatory boards helps cement that commonality of interest. This produces a regulatory climate in which little effective long-term control can be exerted over the industry. So, the insurance industry has a franchise to do business with minimal accountability.

Over the years, the steady flow of money from premiums to the medical industry has raised the price of medical care to the point that, for most people, insurance is not a convenience, but a necessity. Nearly everyone needs medical insurance, but only a limited number of companies may offer it. Prices go up, choice is reduced, accountability declines and the result is bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, at the receiving end of the money train is the medical industry, particularly doctors. As it happens, state and federal law has been written so that accreditation of doctors is performed almost exclusively by state and federal medical associations, private organizations composed of doctors. There's not even a revolving door in this case; public law dictates that licensed doctors regulate licensed doctors.

Since medical groups control their own ability to practice medicine, interesting results occur. For instance, it is almost never possible to get statistical data on operating room morbidity and mortality by specific doctor. A patient can examine the doctor's accreditation certificates (usually on the wall in their offices) but that's about it. Having little direct access to quality-of-service information with which to make an informed judgment, the patient cannot avoid less skillful doctors. As a result, those doctors are not penalized by the market. With high income virtually guaranteed due to the flow of money from the insurance industry, and with little accountability, the practice of medicine becomes correspondingly bureaucratic.

Of necessity, most of the support industries clustered around doctors and insurance companies have a similar bureaucratic and collusive nature. There's just too much money passing through those hands. n an industry with such poor accountability, it's hardly surprising to see business practices like this emerge.

coming soon to students everywhere?, posted 26 Aug 2000 at 05:33 UTC by superpete » (Apprentice)

I'm an undergraduate at Cornell University, and this stuff is right over the horizon here.

Right now, sort-of as an experiment, my required fluid mechanics textbook is available *ONLY* on CD. Now the content is fine, but for various reasons, nearly everyone would much rather have a "regular" book, and would probably buy one even if it cost more than the $100 CD.

The interface looks a lot like microsoft encarta from windows 3.1, and crashed a bit during the professor's first lecture. A screenshot-like printout in smallish arial font is available for an additional $20 bucks to reassure skeptical students.

I'm not sure if it is copy protected, but its almost certain people will pirate the "book" in large quantities... so the 2nd edition, i suppose, would start to implement all sorts of "preventive" features... Use your imagination - if they do it for med school students, they will do it for undergraduates as well. The university is not at all hesitant to lock students into the magic technology of the week.

Point is, digital distribution of "content" is coming real soon, along with all the goodies. And heres a thought - books with bugs. books you're forced to use. hmm...

Somehow this doesn't surprise me..., posted 28 Aug 2000 at 18:36 UTC by mazeone » (Journeyer)

I've got a friend who runs a college bookstore, and according to him it is an insanely cut-throat market. The retail markup on textbooks is almost non-existant, the large sellers (barns & noble and borders in particular) sell at below cost to try to drive indy bookstores out of buisness, blah blah blah...the textbook publishing industry makes the major music labels look sane.

My reply to geek@vitalviewer.com, posted 29 Aug 2000 at 22:17 UTC by dmarti » (Master)

(This is my reply to the person from vitalviewer.com who wrote to me regarding this item. Please give me extra restraint points for taking out several instances of "you sick fuck.")

Willie,

I won't quote your mail on Advogato but this is going there. Feel free to follow up. First, I don't have the software, so I don't know if it's literally "password" protected like the books in Stallman's story or not. I'll take your word that it isn't. But if the licensing scheme that you use doesn't require a password, that doesn't change my point. If you want to post the actual license key scheme to Advogato, and how it materially differs from "password-protected books" if at all, be my guest.

Now, when you compare your "books" to paper books, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I check paper books out of the library. I buy and sell used paper books. I loan them to other people. I donate used paper books to the library so that other people can read them. Comparing the kind of scheme that your company is trying to enforce to a paper book is fundamentally dishonest.

And you're wrong -- you can't let other people ready your "books" as is possible with a paper book. Did you read your own FAQ? "Only registered students and faculty are legally allowed to use the VitalViewerTM application or the VitalBookTM DVD. Any unauthorized use or distribution of the VitalViewerTM software is a major Copyright Violation and is subject to legal action."

If you were doing this with Tom Clancy books you'd just be a liar, but you are doing this with MEDICAL books. I remember looking up a relative's health condition in a medical book from the library. Twice, for two different relatives. I don't know how much it helped for me to see a non-watered-down description of what was actually going on inside my loved one's body but I'm sure there are situations where someone outside the gated community of the Medical Profession needs medical information. Now, with your scheme, somebody has to be a license-fee-paying member of the medical cartel to even see information on their own condition?

As to what "other e-book companies" are trying to do, it's the same damn thing as far as I'm concerned. The hell with all of them. You're setting out to kill the public library and isolate knowledge into the hands of a few people who pass a medical school, or whatever school, admission process. Maybe you can sleep at night doing that. I don't know how.

I'm not going to make death threats as you say some Slashdot readers have done. I'm an Advogato reader after all. But I would like you to reconsider your chosen career of locking up the "forbidden" knowledge from the public. You are trying to uninvent the printing press, and I sincerely hope you'll fail. I don't want to live at the beginning of a Dark Age.

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