Principiis Obsta Textbook Patent Would Eliminate Access Code Fees for Students from Families of Low and Moderate Incomes

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On equity grounds, the holder of the anti-piracy patent intends to waive fees for access codes for families with low and moderate incomes. The “bounded openness” also promotes efficiency.

The issuance of US Patent #8195571 was met with scorn and outrage from students around the world. Many objected on the simplest of economic grounds: affordability. Patent-holder Joseph Henry Vogel, PhD, professor of economics at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras, responded to voluminous emails. Citing the work of the Lancaster University political scientist Christopher May (, Vogel classifies his web-based system as “bounded openness” and explained how the patent would promote both efficiency and equity.

Contrary to thousands of newsfeed comments, the patent makes clear that a higher grade is not in exchange for payment of a fee. The causation runs as follows: The publisher licenses the professor to use a trademarked title in a syllabus on the condition that participation in the discussion board be a graded component. The student pays for access to the discussion board if buying a used book or sharing a new one. Should the student not buy the access code, participation will not be recorded for fulfillment of the graded component of the course. Inasmuch as access to the board is the object of payment, publishers will have an incentive to upload the associated e-textbooks for fair use. Hence, Vogel classifies the system as one of bounded openness.

Affordability was the dominant issue in the 41,000+ citations of the patent since its issuance on 5 June 2012. Students from families with low and moderate incomes emphasized the hardship of paying the typical USD 1,500 per year for books, in addition to the costs of tuition, room and board.

Vogel intends to have publishers waive the access code fee for students from low and moderate-income families. In the United States, qualification can be means-tested using the calculator of the Expected Family Contribution ( of the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid. The cutoff of gross adjusted income for the full US Federal Pell Grant is USD 23,000, a threshold that Vogel considers shamelessly low. He hopes to license the patent to publishers with the stipulation that access code fees be waived for families with incomes 100 percent higher than the Pell threshold.

Adoption of the web-based system means that a swath of college students will be exempt from paying for the access codes (and e-textbooks), especially in Puerto Rico, where Vogel lives. Sixty percent of the students at the University of Puerto Rico receive the Pell Grant and 86 percent of Puerto Rican families earn less than USD 46,000.

Media Contact Information: References for fact-checking and translations available from Joseph Henry VOGEL, josephvogel(at)usa(dot)net.

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