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I have just completed my PhD in Mathematics and accepted a job as a visiting assistant professor. The course I am assigned to teach allows me to pick the textbook I wish to use.

I am currently looking for lower-cost/free textbook options for my students, and I have found a textbook that I really like in the SpringerLink database. My school’s library has a subscription to this database which give students access to an electronic copy of this book free of charge. Are there any rules which prevent me from assigning this as the textbook for the class and giving them the option to download it for free through the library?

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    Whether they can download it for free depends on the deal the library has for that book. Whether there are rules about which book you use depends on your institution. – Jessica B Apr 29 '18 at 16:45
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    You should contact the library at your new institution to ask whether this is allowable under their contract with Springer. – Brian Borchers Apr 29 '18 at 16:51
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    You should also ask your future department chair and your future department secretary. – Alexander Woo Apr 29 '18 at 18:12
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    I think that Jessica B's comment should be reposted as an answer. There might be possible "gotchas" if the subscription has a restriction on the number of times a work can be accessed, but this sounds like it could be a great option for many students. Possibly this is exactly what your school had in mind when purchasing the subscription. – David Brown Aug 8 '18 at 21:57
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    One would hope this is exactly what a library subscription to the book is for. – thosphor Oct 5 '18 at 9:52
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Well .. one idea is to assign the book as the textbook then notify the students that they should get the book via buying from amazon ... or that your library has access to Springer resources free of charge for the students. University students are adults that can make their own decisions.

As the course coordinator you are not selling the book, and it is not your responsibility to hand in a book to each student. Students can: buy the book or use free resources on their own progeratives. Students are not liable, since they are just accessing your library to view already available resources.

As long as you do not directly post content such as homework questions or chapter text from the book or directly share such content in any way, such as on the course website or as handouts, you are not liable. You are just assigning a book as recommended textbook and notifying the students their options. Students are also not liable since your library enables them to access free material they wish to view.

I also just want to give an example of clear violation. If you buy the book and make a pdf out of it and share them in course site (does not matter whether public access or not) that would be a breach of copyright.

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There is one additional consideration not covered in existing answers. Others have addressed possible ethical and legal constraints that I don't see as applying here.

But there is also the issue of fairness. Do your students all have suitable devices for the available formats? If not you need to deal with it, perhaps by choosing a title that also exists in print.

In fact, some students (myself) might prefer a print edition instead of or in addition to an electronic version. For an important course this can be a big deal. Electronic versions are likely to become obsolete in future. In 25 or so years your print version is still available if you desire to keep it as I have done with important books.

Print and electronic versions have different advantages, but also disadvantages. Consider those in your choice.

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If they all download said book and then the book gets leaked and shared bypassing the library by your students in such a way that it ends up on multiple free websites while having electronic stamps of your library, it will be pretty bad. The publishers might view it as a malpractice to put it mildly. The best option is to consult with your colleagues, the library manager, and possibly, with people from the Springer portal you intend to use so heavily. I would not be too concerned since the students have access to the library and are actually encouraged to use its material, including said portal. If students somehow violate rules or share/spread copyrighted material without permission, they are solely responsible unless you yourself participated in such a malpractice. The probability of such a bad outcome approaches zero here. Many students would actually want to buy the hard copy version of said book. And the Springer publishers should only benefit. So I would not be too worried but you have to talk to your colleagues and to the library manager to make sure everything is “in line”.

Your idea of solving the problem for students is commendable. I would further say that giving students a couple of options (recommending at least two good books that are in line with your course) will also be a good idea. They will benefit from different approaches, especially if one book is more advanced/comprehensive and the other book is slightly shorter and easier. For main two semester courses it would be good if most students had hard copies of the textbook. For graduate courses, it’s good to recommend more books and expect students to do more research-like work.

Apart from all that, I would not neglect other publishers (e.g. Pearson) who create a lot of great textbooks in various fields. Yes, many of such books are expensive and new editions often appear on the market at exorbitant prices. However, it’s not necessary to always stick with the latest (expensive) edition making it tough for students to buy a hard copy. The other extreme is to completely discard all more of less pricey options i.e. to ignore even previous editions of expensive texts at discounted prices. I mean if we don’t buy and don’t recommend such books (most of them are very good), how are we to create them and improve on them? Please note, I’m not saying that Springer books on math are not excellent. They are.

Bottom line: Are there any rules which prevent me from assigning this as the textbook for the class and giving them the option to download it for free through the library? – No, unless you give your own access to the students or spread your personal copy among them or your students do something to that effect.

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    "If they all download said book and then the book gets leaked and shared": Don't worry. Everything from Springerlink ends up on Genesis from day 0 already, it seems. – darij grinberg Nov 5 '18 at 5:49
  • The first statements that warn about bad things happening are not necessary. The instructor must to point to the link at the library rather than provide a direct link for downloading. As the source for the subscription, the library has the responsibility to present the copyright information. How students handle the copyright rules is their responsibility, not that of the instructor. – Jeffrey J Weimer Nov 5 '18 at 13:57
  • @darij grinberg, yes, exactly. Almost everything gets leaked and copied everywhere, not only Springer math books -- almost all books of all types. – Ken Draco Nov 5 '18 at 14:52
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Are there any rules which prevent me from assigning this as the textbook for the class and giving them the option to download it for free through the library?

The most important rule which prevents you from doing so is the copyright law. It allows the fair use of educational material only for nonprofit educational uses in the classroom. Scholarly publication and copyright in networked electronic publishing, 1995, page 9 Perhaps a small small example. If a third party can publish a printed version of the textbook and earn money with it, and this is no longer possible because of somebody else misuses the license of Springerlink for publication purposes, then it will become a legal case.

It is important to know, that vendors of electronic publications are not selling their products but licensing them to the library. That means, the vendor can decide what the correct usage scenario is. Electronic collections and wired faculty, 1997 What librarians and teacher can do is to look at the issue and work together to resolve it. Aggregation or aggravation? Optimizing access to full-text journals, 2000

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    What do you mean by "misuses the license of Springerlink for publication purposes"? Isn't student access for study reasons one of the intended uses of Springerlink? – Federico Poloni Apr 29 '18 at 17:52
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    The question is asking about using a work which the copyright holder (presumably Springer) is licensing to the university, including the students, in exchange for money. The details of the contract between Springer and the university might be relevant, but fair use isn't. – Henry Apr 29 '18 at 23:41

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