New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Law Professors Make Their Textbooks Free, Hoping to Ease Students’ Financial Burdens

NYU professors of copyright and trademark law classes, instead of going through a publisher, have uploaded their textbooks online for students across the country to use for free.
Law textbooks can often be very expensive, causing students to spend thousands of dollars on books alone during law school. (Via Flickr)

Law textbooks, which can cost up to $300, take up only a small fraction of NYU School of Law students’ $66,000 tuition. Still, they are an expenditure that three professors hope to help students save.

Professors Barton Beebe, Christopher Sprigman and Jeanne Fromer have eliminated the costs of two required textbooks for trademark and copyright law classes — “Trademark Law: An Open-Source Casebook” and “Copyright Law: Cases and Materials” — which normally cost around $200.

NYU Law student Samuel Ison, Co-Chair of the NYU Student Bar Association Campus Climate and Bias Committee, said affordability is an especially pressing issue for minor.

“Law schools hold the keys to the ability to practice law and, unfortunately, the financial cost of law school is a barrier that keeps many from access to this legal knowledge,” Ison said. “This is especially true for members of communities traditionally excluded from the legal industry, often the same communities the law has treated unjustly.”

Vice President of the Student Bar Association and NYU Law student Safeena Mecklai said the SBA is “supportive of any way that faculty can make materials like textbooks more accessible for students.

Beebe was the first of the three professors to make his textbook free. He made the text, which is required for his trademark law class, publicly available by publishing it online. Sprigman and Fromer wrote the other textbook for a copyright law class, and followed Beebe’s lead. 

Sprigman said the main motivation for his decision was to make law school slightly more affordable for the average student. 

“Students are going to be facing a lot of stress coming up with this money every semester for books,” Sprigman said. “It’s by no means a solution to the problem, but I just thought it would be good if we weren’t adding to the problem.”

Fromer will be using the same textbook she co-authored in her classes, and partook in Sprigman’s decision to make it free. Fromer said she empathizes with students who struggle to afford their textbooks.

“With the out-of-pocket costs, it’s really tough,” Fromer said. “It may have been a while since we were students, but not so long that we forgot that.”

An important step of the process of making the textbooks free was eliminating the middleman: publishing companies. According to Sprigman, it is the publishers that profit the most from textbook sales and the process of getting a book published can delay its availability. As self-publishers, Fromer and Sprigman can update the textbook online every summer to keep information current and relevant for students instead of waiting potentially years at a time for publishers to print new editions. 

“It gives us the opportunity to update [the book] relatively frequently,” Fromer said. “Things move fast in the law.”

The professors hope their actions will start a nationwide trend of providing free or reduced-cost textbooks to university students. Already, instructors from all over the country can access Sprigman and Fromer’s textbook online and distribute it to their classes for free. 21 law schools around the country are already using the textbook. 

“I’m hoping others will see […] that they can have this impact on students,” Fromer said. “And I hope that NYU can support it.” 

Email Jana Warshawsky at [email protected].

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