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Commercial Etextbooks

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By Rory McGreal April 26, 2013 - 4:01am

AU needs to be very cautious about using commercial ebooks. Many if not all are purposely “crippled” by the publishers using Technological Protection Measures (TPM) or Digital Rights Management (DRM). [A more approptiate term would be Digital RESTRICTIONS Management!]

With TPM, students and faculty using commercial ebooks cannot do some or possibly all of the following:

Copy & paste, annotate, highlight

Text to speech (important for disabled students)

Format change

Move material to different applications or devices

Print out (some allow small sections to be printed out)

Move geographically (no your Canadian ebook will NOT work in France!)

Use after an expiry date


In addition, copyright law legally protects the publishers and the new law makes it illegal to circumvent any TPM. Moreover, the licences can be legally enforceable (the ones you click on! – Have your ever read one?)

Well with the click, you agree that

Owners have NO liability even if product doesn’t work

Owners can “invade” your computer without permission

Collect & use personal data

  the user has a “privilege” to use the product not own it


Moreover it is prohibited to show your content to other students or even your spouse, AND the readers must accept that they have NO rights

A better alternative to commercial etexts as they become available, is to make more use of OER content or OER etextbooks or link to other content online. We need to accelerate the process of “deboning” our courses of commercial content wherever practicable. 

So we should not jump on the commercial etextbook  bandwagon without overseeing the terms. AU may be in a position to negotiate away some of these restrictions. Faculty need to monitor this closely, administration won’t.



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