Rabbits in the Foxhunt – The new DRM Wars

You can never underestimate the power of repeating the same corruption over and over again. Over time, it will no longer be viewed as corruption, and even endeared as a normal part of commerce. This is true in Chicago politics, education budgets, and Digital Rights Management. If you repeat something often enough and long enough, it will become “Truth”. The combination of “Canned News”, lazy editorial staffs, and perverse monetary interests, and any darn thing can be fixed. And if you need something fixed. Bring in the Fixer. This is a story of one such fixer, David Streitfeld, New York Times DRM fixer.

David Streitfeld joined The New York Times in December 2007 and writes about technology for the business desk. He came to The Times after lengthy stints at The Los Angeles Times, where he covered residential real estate, and The Washington Post, where he wrote about the literary scene. He is based in San Francisco.... So says the New York Times.

Really? Streitfeld is a tech writer who worked for the business desk of the LA Times, Land of the MPAA and Jack Valenti, and you've hired him to write on Technology and Education?

David Streitfeld should be fired, and his editor should also be released.

David Streitfeld is either mole in the NY Times for a specific “textbook publisher”, or is so lazy and corrupt that he laced together a few canned new Public Relations releases from the digital rights industry, and wrapped them up in a nice red bow to be swallowed whole, with honey and sugar on top, by his New York Times Editor. In either event, his propaganda motif for “CourseSmart” made it all the way to the front page of the April 8th. 2013 NY Times under and article titled “Teacher Knows if You’ve Done the E-Reading”. The article was more than unbalanced. It was a tool of propaganda. That is the only way one can justify publishing such misleading statements as:

The start-up said its surveys indicated few privacy concerns among students or colleges, and this was borne out by the class. “Big Brother,” said one student, but that was a joke, and everyone snickered. Being watched is a fundamental part of the world they live in.

Amazon has such a footprint on me,” said Carol Johnson, 51, who works in the tech industry. “It knows more than my mother.”

Carol Johnson should ALSO be fired but she probably works for Amazon.

Really David. Everyone in the KNOW is upset with and worried with the tracking. They are worried, and fighting back by blocking, using anonymous relays, fight against SOPA, and studying how evasive tracking has become, from The EU suing Google, the CNN opinion section. You feed the first page of the New York Times with an article about a textbook that tracks every user every time they touch it, read it, outline in it or otherwise use it and REPORT that information to “CourseSmart” and the university that assigns the textbook, but you report it as perceived as a “joke”. In fact, you admit in your article that you have regurgitated this pluff directly from the company tracking all these students.


Hah Hah

I guess the joke is on us.

Let us introduce David Streitfeld, DRM and Education Software reporter, to Bruce Schneier. Bruce Schneier is a security technologist and author of "Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust Society Needs to Survive." And he reported on CNN, some information you failed to uncover.

The Internet is a surveillance state. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, and whether we like it or not, we're being tracked all the time. Google tracks us, both on its pages and on other pages it has access to. Facebook does the same; it even tracks non-Facebook users. Apple tracks us on our iPhones and iPads. One reporter used a tool called Collusion to track who was tracking him; 105 companies tracked his Internet use during one 36-hour period.

How can this be ignored . A University releases onto its student population, people who by definition are in an entirely dependent relationship with the University leadership and their professors, who look up to their teachers and pays real money in student loans to be lead and learn from said University leadership, an application that records every keystroke, and usage of their reading materials. This should be prosecutable as abuse. If a parent did this to a child it would be child abuse. Then the university shares that information with a corporate entity. Oh, and by the way, then the “textbooks” disappear and get locked down after the course is over, leaving the student with no library.

This is a new form of rape.

It is hard to believe we have reached this point so quickly and with so little resistance. The institutions that we depend on for reporting and news of such corrosion of our liberty have not only let us down, they have joined the feeding frenzy. Can we trust the press with regard to our liberty, for them to report the news needed for a fair understanding of how media is being used to account for our every action, our psychological profile, our living habits, to hunt us down like rabbits in the fox hunt.

In August, 2000, New York University College of Dentistry announced that they joined in a business deal with Vital Books The announcement, which, which can still be found on Archives.org at http://web.archive.org/web/20010416002944/http://www.nyu.edu/dental/vitalbook/index.html, said:

Welcome to New York University College of Dentistry.

Congratulations on your acceptance and your decision to attend NYU.

I am looking forward to welcoming you personally to the College.

Health care today demands that practitioners are not only well educated but skillful in discovering and evaluating new information. With that in mind, I am writing to give you information about a new program being introduced by the College in September.

Imagine a curriculum that encompasses millions of pages of information and you will have a fair picture about dental education. Traditionally, students purchase textbooks each year over four years of enrollment. As a result, books with valuable clinical applications are not available until a later time. Now, you will have all of the textbooks plus additional books that are only suggested by the faculty - all as you begin your dental education. The VitalBook™ is a revolutionary product that will provide the entire four-year library of textbooks in digital format, plus a browser that permits you to search any one of the books - or the entire library of books - as a means for you to learn.

The VitalBook utilizes an Apple computer. NYU has partnered with Apple to provide the appropriate hardware at the best possible price. This mailing includes all of the information you will need. You can also visit the College of Dentistry Web site and find this information.

We are incorporating this program into the curriculum and participation will be mandatory for the Class of 2005. However, the Class of 2004 may take advantage of this important program on a voluntary basis. We are offering the VitalBook to the Class of 2004 for half-price. You can purchase the VitalBook for $600 for the first year. We believe so strongly in this product, we will refund your $600 within 90 days, if you are not satisfied. You can purchase the Apple computer at a special discounted price through the NYU Computer Store.

Read the enclosed information (FAQ's) carefully. If you have questions contact Associate Dean Frederick More and he will answer your questions.

In one swoop NYU handed Vital Books a big fat pork barrel deal that devastated both its student body and much of the work that was being done at the university to bring forward its vast stores of self published research, video and text accumulated from decades of university research. Slashdot got a hold of the story and Vital Books and NYU became so embarrassed by fall out that they removed information about the project from public site. In fact, Vital Books made specific claims to publishers that through the use of a DRM, slaveware release of their textbooks that the publisher would no longer have to compete in the book market for used copies, or alternate text books, and would get repeated fees for textbooks from students from “subscription” services. One interaction between Vital Books and the slashdot community went as follows:

>Next will be the medical schools, then the engineering schools, then
>undergraduate schooling, then High School Education, until we reach the
>point where privately owned libraries and freedom of discussion will be
>outlawed. As this products works, and with the abusive power brought by
>the DMCA, I don't see my Grandchildren ever owning a copy of Curious
>George or the Cat in the Hat in the future. The publishers will have no
>incentive to produce paper copies for home ownership. They'll just Lease
>digital copies for a year to year rental.

A few things on this point.

1. We aren't the DMCA.
2. The only disincentive for publishers not producing the paper version of a book is if it isn't making money.

Why don't you ask the 13 health sciences publishers who went bankrupt over the past 7 years why they went bankrupt? Why can't you purchase any version of their textbooks now? Ever think about that?

>As your aware, is not allowed to to give Their copy to someone else, and
>according to your FAQ, they can not share it with upper classmen because
>you threaten to sue them in plain black and white on your web page.
>Furthermore, they can not Sell their books to other students either. The
>prevention of this alone is a violation of the students rights, even under
>the DMCA. If an Upper Classman wants to use a lower classmans device to
>find a paragraph of material - you website makes it clear that in your
>opinion this is a violation of Copyright. Yet, every single court decision
>and Section 107 of the Copyright Act, and the US Constitution says your
>just plain wrong.

They can let others read their books - but they can't copy them. How hard is it to understand this?

Now, here is what the ultimate fallout of the imposition of Vital Books onto the NYU Dental School student body. The students paid through the nose for unnecessary disks, digital books, and computers. They hated the product because it was intrusive and when compared to books, was a difficult to use. NYU and Vital Books changed their websites to remove the evidence of their corruption from their websites. And students went to the Dental Schools computer lab and printed everything out only paper. The IT department couldn't keep up with the printing demand. And this kickback scheme still continues at the Dental School until today. Students still continue to graduate NYU Dental School with no library.

At the time, it was pointed out that the abuse of Vital Books opened the doors for further abuses, most importantly that individual would lose control of their computers, their privacy and their ability to freely participate in their education and life. It was said:

The reason why people are so upset by this is because, unlike what you claim, your product does FAR beyond traditional protections of Copyright. Actually, I think your fully aware of this because you state right on your website that your going to end the situation where Publishers are competing with their own used books. Since the right of second sale is guaranteed as part of the Fair Use Doctrine, right from the start your talking against yourself.

Now we are faced with textbooks that explicitly record you every motion and report them broadly. The comentators of the NY Times in response to this article did more research than either David Streitfeld or his editor.

_W_Minneapolis, MN

Besides the obvious civil liberties issues, there are two problems that I see with 'E-textbook' feedback.

The first is that there is no market for used textbooks. The technology forces the students to buy the prescribed E-textbook from the University, or one of their appointed minions in a monopoly textbook scheme.

The second is that any University who succumbs to this technology will automatically identify itself as a 'cookbook educator'.

When I was in Engineering school at the University of Minnesota, there was no way that a student could read every page, do every problem, go to every class and meet every deadline. But that was part of the training. The University knew that students had to cope with the same problem in the real world. And they also knew that Engineering was never about cookbook solutions. It was about creative solutions to new and difficult problems. After all, if a cookbook existed, then there is little need for the Engineer in the first place.

Part of the educational experience at the University was to prepare kids for a lifetime of learning and change. That meant they had to figure out what was important, and what could be skipped. Since there were never enough hours to finish everything, the students had to develop the skills to cope with constant change.

Apparently, the Professors at the Texas A&M business school don't feel this way. They have decided to reward their students based upon whether they read the assigned cookbook.


Chris Maryland

I'm a well educated and well rounded person who recently took a class at the local community college for fun one evening a week. The class used a similar sort of 'smart' online textbook. The school required use of it, and it was obvious the professor had mixed feelings. According to the program, I'm a horrible student with under developed study habits. Once the professor came to me with this (fully realizing this wasn't the case) I played around a little and figured out how to game the program. Suddenly I had great study habits with minimal effort. The problem? I took paper notes, didn't clink on the 'further information' links because I generally knew that information already, and printed things out (which apparently counts against you).

At the end of the class, I realized why. The day after the class ended, all online content, notes, etc vanished. The whole thing was just a ploy to make money for the text book manufacturer. It forces students to do everything online and pushes professors to encourage it under the guise of 'improving their student's engagement'. A good professor should be able to tell via class discussions if their students did readings and understood the material.


Griffin Iowa

I teach music at a community college and use a text that is available on CourseSmart, and I will never use it with my classes again. Why? It costs as much as the print version, but the students don't actually own the book. This saves the publisher from the horrors of the secondary market, but it also means that students don't have a copy that they can keep on their shelves as reference for future classes. This is problematic in your major coursework if you need to review .

A music appreciation class should involve listening to the entire piece being studied, yet the homework site does not give the students the whole piece (only links to iTunes where they'd have to drop several hundred more dollars in addition to the site access to complete the collection). It's impossible to students to learn Beethoven's 5th if the homework only has them listen to snippets as short as 5 seconds long.

That, and the homework site itself is stupidly easy to cheat--just don't email the results to your instructor until you've got a perfect score. Scores went down on the homework, but understanding went back up when I switched away from this site to paper--that's harder to game.

Darkwing Duck Boston

This is just a business decision masked as what's best for the students.

A. M. Garrett Lafayette, La.

Correct. Next, Pearson lobbies legislators, and all of a sudden the CourseSmart "engagement index" becomes part of every teacher's evaluation.

The rise of standardized testing has nothing to do with making schools better. It is about enriching these companies, and there is a revolving door between school administrators who decide on these contracts and the education firms that sell this snake oil.

And finally these two:

Thomas Swoyersville, Pa ~~ Is this "article" an advert for CourseSmart?

BKBCanton, OH ~~ I wish I were reading this in The Onion, not the NYTimes.

Yeah – and that is why the editor should be fired. It is getting harder to tell the difference, and that is not because the Onion is getting better.

The Foxhunt is on, and your the rabbit..