TABLETS RATHER THAN TEXTS
Technology now makes it easier for copyright violations. Reproductions of documents via photocopying is now cheaper, takes far less time and can be of the same quality as the original.
In fact, you can photocopy a book within half an hour, at a fraction of the cost of an original and hardly tell the difference between the two. Not only are textbooks being mass produced through photocopying but in some Caribbean countries, exam results are also being counterfeited on a large scale.
This obviously presents a problem for copyright protection. However, just as how technology has made it easier for intellectual property rights to be violated, technology can also become the means by which it can be better protected.
The Government of Guyana faces a moral dilemma. On the one hand it wants to make critical text books available to all students. On the other hand, buying these books in their original format would be prohibitive because of the huge costs that they attract.
However, pirated versions are far cheaper and will allow for the government to purchase far more copies than if they had to buy originals from local distributors. The problem is that the government is under a moral obligation to avoid being complicit in violating copyright laws. So what does the government do?
The solution can be found through technology. The government should cease buying pirated books. Instead it should negotiate with the publishers to purchase licenses for rights to specified quantities of electronic versions of the text books that are needed in the school system. It is possible today for these electronic books to be loaded virtually onto an electronic hand held tablet.
Suppose, for example, the government finds that it needs 50,000 copies of an English text book. It should arrange for the publishers of this text book to make 50,000 electronic versions of this particular textbook available at a severely discounted price to the Ministry of Education. The books should be in a format that does not allow them to be printed on paper, saved onto another medium or copied. The technology to ensure this is already on the market and is cheap.
The Ministry of Education would then hold exclusive rights to use these electronic books within the school system. The Ministry will download these books onto electronic tablets which will be kept by each child. These tablets are cheap and can be available for under US$100 per child.
At the beginning of each school year, each child instead of being given a pile of books which they have to fetch to school in trolley book bags would instead be given a hand held electronic tablet with all the prescribed texts for their grade loaded onto the tablet.
At the end of the school year, the students surrender the tablet and this is passed on to another student. In this way, the Ministry does not have to store, distribute or ensure that all the text books distributed during the school year are collected from each student. They merely have to collect their tablets from the student.
Each book will have an electronic expiry date of five years which means that when this time is up, the book eviscerates itself off the tablet. This is a “win-win” situation for the Ministry, for the students and for the publishers.
The Ministry will acquire the books at a discounted cost which should be cheaper than what they will have to pay for pirated books. They will not have to worry about the storage, distribution and collection of books. They will not have to worry about replacing books which were either not collected or damaged.
Their only worry will be about ensuring that the tablets are returned but the Ministry can always ensure that if this is not done that the student will have to pay a replacement cost. If the tablet is lost, damaged, or stolen, it can be electronically deactivated permanently just as happens with stolen Blackberry phones.
For the students it means that they now have all their books on one small tablet. They do not have to worry about fetching around all those heavy book bags each day to school. It will save them back injury and ensure that all they need to take to school are their exercise books, pens, pencils and rulers.
For the publishers, it means that the competition from pirated texts is eradicated. They now will earn more money from the sale of these electronic books since there will be no need for pirated books anymore.
Electronic books are part of the new technological wave. In ten years time, all books in the school system will be electronic books. No one will have hard copies of books. The days of hard copies of books are fast coming to an end.
Instead of waiting ten years and having to worry about being accused of copyright protection, Guyana should now move in the direction of electronic books. In so doing it can help to reduce the problem of piracy of books which is so rampant in Guyana. The moral dilemma will be solved.