Copy This Book!
Two new faculty-authored textbooks can be downloaded, copied, and shared — for free
Three Duke Law faculty members are offering their new coursebooks as free digital downloads under Creative Commons licenses that also allow readers to copy, share, modify, and build upon the material in any way they choose.
Both of the new texts, Corporate Crime: An Introduction to the Law and its Enforcement by Bernard M. Fishman Professor Samuel Buell and Intellectual Property: Law & the Information Society by Clinical Professor Jennifer Jenkins and William Neal Reynolds Professor James Boyle, are downloadable as a whole book or by individual chapter. The authors have also made bound paper copies available at low cost through a self-publishing platform.
“Why do we do this? Partly, we do it because we think the price of legal casebooks and materials is obscene,” Boyle and Jenkins write in their introduction to Intellectual Property. “Legal education is already expensive; we want to play a small part in diminishing the costs of the materials involved.”
Textbook evolved out of course pack
Buell agrees, and says the new book Corporate Crime grew out of the course pack for his popular class by the same name. A former federal prosecutor who served as a lead prosecutor on the Department of Justice’s Enron Task Force, Buell says he developed his own course pack when he started teaching the class 11 years ago because he couldn’t find a suitable textbook for such a young and fast-evolving field.
“As you go along each year you keep adding and sometimes subtracting and re-organizing your materials and you’re just making your course pack better,” he says.
“Eventually I got to a point where I thought, ‘This is closer to a book now than it is to a course pack.’ So many years of work have been put into it, how much work would be involved in just taking this to the next level?”
Two of his research assistants, Lauren Smith ’21 and Sarah Lowe ’23, helped ready the book for digital publication. Lowe also designed the book’s website, where its contents can be downloaded along with review problems for students and syllabi other instructors can use. The book is copyrighted under a Creative Commons license that allows users to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and adapt and build upon the material for non-commercial purposes, as long as they credit the authors and license their new creations under the identical terms. A bound two-volume text can be purchased through Amazon for $14 per volume.
Buell says going through a traditional publisher to create a hardbound text likely wouldn’t have yielded him much profit.
“If you’ve got one of the leading books in a required course like Torts, then maybe it becomes a profitable enterprise over the course of a career, but I don’t know that the vast majority of more specialized course books really make a lot of money,” he says. “It’s a field-specific, practice-specific course in that sense.”
Corporate Crime covers liability rules and procedural essentials of corporate and white collar crimes including fraud, insider trading, securities offenses, obstruction crimes, health care crimes, and more. A benefit of the digital textbook platform is the ability to keep adapting it, as Buell has been accustomed to doing, with litigation documents, settlement agreements, indictments, and plea agreements from new cases.
While they fully support creators profiting from their work, Professors Boyle and Jenkins say the cost of most law school casebooks is disproportionately high and little profit flows to authors.
“That’s somewhat difficult to do in the traditional casebook format, where every time you want to do a new eddition there’s a whole process you have to go through,” Buell says. Another benefit, he says, is the ability to share his expertise with practitioners in the field.
“This platform just seemed to fit for a whole bunch of reasons.”
Free-sharing advocates walk their talk on licensing
Jenkins’ and Boyle’s Intellectual Property introduces students to the main forms of U.S. federal intellectual property — trademark, copyright, patent, and trade secrecy — but also to the challenges of an information economy, from competition and free speech, to the impact of transformative technologies such as a global internet or genetic engineering.
In its preface, Jenkins and Boyle write about the significance of authoring a coursebook on IP as the world raced to find a vaccine for COVID-19, bringing public awareness to questions such as how best to incentivize research, the role of the public and private sectors in funding, and achieving a balance between encouraging innovation through exclusion and spreading its results cheaply to the world.
“These questions are exactly the types of issues intellectual property scholars study,” they write. “The pandemic shows us how vital these questions are and how important it is to get them right.”
The casebook is under the same license as Buell’s textbook and the statutory supplement is under a license that allows unlimited reproduction and modification, including for commercial purposes.
Both Jenkins and Boyle are strong advocates for the sharing of information and the release of creative works for free public use. Jenkins directs the Center for the Study of Public Domain at Duke Law and teaches courses in IP, trademark law, and music copyright. And Boyle, who teaches IP, legal theory, legal argument, and other courses, was a founding board member of Creative Commons, formed in 2001 to offer licenses that enable creators to retain copyright while allowing their works to be shared more freely. They have authored two graphic novels together: Bound By Law? on fair use and the permissions culture in intellectual property and Theft: A History of Music, a 2,000-year history of musical borrowing. Both books also are available as free downloads.
Jenkins and Boyle say that while they fully support creators profiting from their work and understand the labor involved in putting together a textbook, the cost of most law school casebooks is disproportionately high and little of the profit flows to authors. That cost is no longer justifiable with the advent of fast, inexpensive, and accurate print-on-demand services and mechanisms for worldwide, almost cost-free distribution, they say, and traditional casebooks are also inflexible, uncustomizable, and hard to preview and search on the web.
They say that while they hope to help put a small dent in law students’ expenses, they’re also challenging an “unjust and inefficient” textbook publishing model. An author could self-publish an 825 page paperback for $100 less than the average hardbound casebook and earn the same amount in royalties per item, they calculate.
“We hope this will provide a pleasant, restorative, competitive pressure on the commercial publishers to lower their prices and improve their digital access norms,” Boyle says.