Just another librarian blog

Amongst the Torrents…File Sharing of Scholarly Content?

Posted by lindyjb on March 6, 2009

napster1A few weeks ago, I was meeting with a student who, in the past, was uninspired academically. Finally, it was different: he stopped by to share his excitement about a research project he was working on. During the conversation, he shared information about a new way of studying, courtesy of the combination of his Mac laptop and the speech program installed on it. The speech program, he said, would read aloud anything he highlighted. Part of his project included incorporating/synthesizing information from a book into the research project.

One of my favorite things as an academic adviser is to see students find success in their academics – especially those who are initially resistant, scared, or at-risk scholastically. Therefore, I was so excited that he found a way to do the reading in a way that worked for him!

I asked him to explain more, and as he shared his new-found study routine, I had a throwback memory to the years of Napster and peer-to-peer sharing. The student explained that yeah, he never picked up the book from the bookstore – he actually downloaded it to his computer from a torrent website, and then used the Mac speech program to read it back to him. It was like a free audio book, he explained, which was perfect since it allowed him to hear and see what he was reading, making it easier to understand the concepts. He innocently enjoyed learning that way… and I don’t think he realized that what he was doing was illegal.

That of course made me wonder how are we educating students about copyright? It obviously didn’t occur to this student that ripping the book off the interwebs was a wee bit illegal… Just because it’s out there and easily accessible doesn’t mean it’s ok… Not only was a teachable moment for him, but it was a teachable moment for me — regarding just how accessible things are on the internet! Peer-to-peer networks aren’t just for sharing music anymore.

Napster was just the beginning…

That’s why, with great interest, I read the Brian Mathews’s (the Ubiquitous Librarian) post File Sharers Swap Scholarly Materials Too: a glimpse into the real world of “open access. He wrote an engaging post on what he discovered (also via a college student) on file sharing websites: everything from e-books to scholarly journals to conference papers to textbooks and so on… The conversation that follows his post is certainly interesting – I’m glad to see folks talking about this.

Catherine Lavellee-Welch (from EngLib) also wrote a short follow up to Brian’s post, Going Underground For Scholarly Content. She makes an interesting point:

Hey, does it matter where the students get it if they do use scholarly, quality sources? At least, they['re] not Googling everything? Well, there’s the thorny, ginormous issue of copyright. I cannot condone students downloading illegally but now, I cannot ignore it either.

So true… I seriously wonder how many students are doing this? I would imagine a LOT!

Photo credit: l33t from the str33t by flickr user KateMonkey.
This photo is licensed Attribution-Noncommerical Generic 2.0.

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One Response to “Amongst the Torrents…File Sharing of Scholarly Content?”

  1. foldered said

    I frequently “pirate” scholarly resources, especially critical theory. Without it, I probably wouldn’t have read half of the theory (that has immensely helped me in my degree) that I have, considering how many books are out of print and that my University library usually only has one copy of a book.

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