UPDATE: Less than 24 hours after this article was published, all ebooks were removed from fuckresellers.ca. According to a message on their website the creators have “packed up,” and have a final message to people reselling ebooks on Facebook: “We would also like to say FUCK YOU to all the resellers.”
A group of Ryerson students has launched a website that makes e-textbooks available for free, which a digital publishing professor says violates copyright laws.
The site, fuckresellers.ca, was launched in January 2015 in response to students who try to sell their ebooks rather than sharing them with others free of cost.
“Originally ebooks were supposed to be a cheaper alternative to the traditional textbook but then assholes started reselling them for $10, $20, $30, when ebooks should be a free commodity for everyone,” said 3Pac, one of three co-founders, who would not identify himself and chose to disclose only his online name.
Thirty-seven e-textbooks are currently posted on the website: mainly business books, as well as a few engineering and other books. Site visitors can choose to view the books online or download the PDFs onto their computers.
Despite being well-intentioned, the site breaks the law, according to David Ward, a digital publishing professor at Ryerson who also works for McClellan Press.
“They don’t have a licence with the existing publisher to hand these things out … so what they’re doing is illegal,” Ward said.
According to Ryerson’s website, students can spend an estimated $2,000 annually on books and supplies alone.
As a result, many have been driven to find alternatives to visiting the bookstore. Some will try to buy used books, but this isn’t always practical. Publishers often release new editions every few years, making old editions useless and leaving students with no choice but to pay full price.
This is why many have turned to buying e-textbooks, as they’re usually cheaper than their hard-copy alternatives. Students have resorted to posting on Facebook pages to ask for books, and although most posts are looking for print versions, it is becoming more and more common to find ebooks on sale, usually for only $5 or $10.
Ward says that reselling a used print textbook is technically also copyright infringement.
However, publishers turn “a blind eye” because of how often new textbook editions are released and because it’s only one book.
The difference with an ebook is that it can be passed on to several people who can all view it at the same time without having paid for it.
“In the case of the physical book only one person is going to get their hands on it,” says Ward.
“But here you’ve got massive distribution.”
But Jean, another anonymous founder of fuckresellers.ca, says he isn’t worried about the legality of the site.
He says they’ve acquired all their ebooks legally, either by purchasing them themselves or through donations, avoiding torrenting.
“We have gotten a lot of donations. About 10 to 20 per cent are contributions from students who have used or purchased them in the past,” Jean says.
According to Ward, it doesn’t matter how they acquired the ebooks if they don’t have permission from publishers to share them.
But Jean says the site is not making a profit so there shouldn’t be anything wrong with it.
He also says the site offers anonymity to students who want to access textbooks without paying for them. People are forced to use their full names on forums like Facebook.
“The way I see it, when people sell the PDF on Facebook that’s already illegal,” Jean says.
“We’re just taking it a little bit further by putting it on a site where everybody can benefit from it.”
This story also appeared in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on Feb. 25, 2015.