In connection with the recent release of the Kindle DX, I have been reading a lot about how the Kindle and digital books will affect law school and lawyers. (Also the bankrupt state of California just announced it would begin using open source, digital textbooks in schools.) Considering laptops fill modern day law school classrooms, digital law school casebooks seems like a no-brainer. Students would be able to carry all of their casebooks with them everywhere, search for a particular phrase or case easily, and copy and paste phrases into notes. With the wealth of e-reader and pdf technology available, highlighting and making notes in the margins is as easy on digital copies as it is on physical ones.
The more I think about the usefulness of having digital copies of my law school books the more I am surprised they are not currently widely available. I would definitely pay an extra $20 to have both a physical and digital copy of my casebooks. I would never have to haul the heavy books with me to class. Nor would I have to prioritize which books to take with me since they don’t all fit in any bag I am willing or able to bike to class with. Unfortunately, digital copies of casebooks are limited at best. Presumably one of the major reasons is the fear of the books being pirated online. While DRM is an obvious solution, the successes and failures of DRM make it a less than ideal one.
In the meantime, one blog I found advocates manually converting physical casebooks to digital ones. While this raises major copyright and fair use issues, it also demonstrates that digital copies are already available. Consider again the laptop filled law school classrooms. Do you believe that these students will continue to be satisfied with physical copies of their books? I believe the market demand for digital casebooks is just beginning to rise and thus legal publishers ought to figure out a way to publish digitally for a profit before pirated books fill the void.