[Athen] Interesting discussion with an author

Deborah Armstrong armstrongdeborah at fhda.edu
Fri Jan 15 09:08:48 PST 2021

One of our textbooks is self-published and I've been having an interesting discussion via email with its author.

The author was very happy to send me the book but was waiting for more inventory and planned to ship me the hardcopy.

But when he learned I was going to scan and create a PDF, and that I did it routinely, he balked.

I explained we require proof of purchase and that students are told to destroy the copy at the end of their quarter (we don't have semesters here), but this author wonders why alt media doesn't work like public libraries, where the book automatically expires at the end of the loan period.

I told him it just isn't done that way, and of course we cannot absolutely guarantee our students always comply and have shared their PDF files with others. My students mostly want plain PDF which they open in Kurzweil or Read and Write. Many have the Mac and use a variety of apps for reading. For them PDF is more versatile than anything else.

Originally, when I started this job, there was more weight given to the "specialized format "clause in the law. We used Braille, Kurzweil and Daisy files which was a way to reassure authors that easy to read copies weren't floating around in the ether.

But none of my students ever warmed up to specialized formats - sighted ones want PDF and blind ones want word. I realized I had no real way to reassure this author his book would be truly safe from unauthorized distribution. Myself, I'm happy to use the Kindle, Ibooks, Daisy, K1000, public library eBooks in epub that expire ... but I love to read so I'm willing to jump through hoops. Most of our students are not.

I ended up suggesting he give his book to bookshare, which seems to be doing a better job of reassuring publishers than I am.

I feel conflicted over this discussion. I want to protect authors while at the same time giving my students what they need. And in reality if it's on bookshare for example, I don't ask for proof of purchase. I myself read many books on bookshare I never intend to buy. And yes as a visually impaired person, I can do this. But bookshare also doesn't have a public library book expiration model either.

I find it interesting how recent lawsuits have stressed the timely delivery of alt media while the specialized format clause has been virtually ignored.

It's getting harder and harder to get books from publishers and I think authors' concerns are part of the problem.

Have we, as access technology and alternate media specialists contributed to the problem by not insisting our students learn specialized formats and be restricted to specialized reading platforms? Should we adopt a public library eBook distribution model? But is it fair to make students jump through hoops instead of providing the easiest to learn solution? Are the rights of our students more valid than the rights of our textbook authors?

Weighty questions I'm pondering this morning, and I better stop procrastinating and fill some new alt media requests that just came in!

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