From relative obscurity, Textbook Torrents, the world’s largest BitTorrent index of textbooks, found itself in the world spotlight during July 2008 and was forced to close down by its host. The site returned weeks later, growing massively in the process, but now, just a couple of months on, the site has closed for good.
Quietly and with little fuss, January 2007 saw the birth of TextBook Torrents, a relatively small site initially, offering a BitTorrent tracker dedicated to the indexing of textbooks. In 6 months the site had accumulated 10,000 members. Just 3 months later, the number of users had doubled to 20,000 and by January 2008 the membership doubled again to an impressive 40,000. By the end of June 2008, almost 70,000 members were registered at TextBook Torrents and more and more people were becoming aware of its existence.
On July 1st 2008, Jeff Young, a writer with The Chronicle of Higher Education, wrote an article entitled Textbook Piracy Grows Online, Prompting a Counterattack From Publishers. The article focused on TextBook Torrents and it quickly gained traction after being picked up by Slashdot and subsequently, many other mainstream publications. In this explosion of publicity the site’s membership grew rapidly, but almost inevitably, the anti-piracy hawks began to circle.
Within days, Textbook Torrents’ host and domain registrar received takedown requests. At the time, Geekman, the admin of the tracker told TorrentFreak: “We received a DMCA notice from Pearson Education a week or so prior, which we complied with, but it was a group of publishers that contacted our host.” On July 5th Dreamhost suspended Geekman’s account and refused to speak with him and it took a week to even transfer the domain. It took a month for the site to return.
“I want to see the textbook industry change such that we are no longer needed,” Geekman told TorrentFreak when we asked him in early August about his motivation to bring back the site.
Now, just 2 months later, visitors to the TextBook Torrents site this week were faced with the grim reality that the site has gone. “TextBook Torrents won’t be coming back,” Geekman told TorrentFreak. “I’ve been at it for two years and it has been an awesome two years, but i’m ready to step back and hopefully allow somebody else to rise up in our place.”
Geekman told us that he felt that when it became clear to the copyright owners that simple threats to the site and its host wouldn’t be sufficient to close down the tracker, he himself became the next logical target: “We got word from several credible sources that there was a lawsuit in the works against myself personally,” he explained.
Of course, when anyone invests a huge amount of work into a project, there will be some pain to endure when it comes to an end, and Geekman is no different. “It does hurt. Textbook Torrents was my baby and one of my proudest projects, both personally and certainly as Geekman. At the same time, running the site had become very demanding. Since the attention last summer the site nearly doubled in size in 4 months from 60,000 to over 100,000 members. In all honesty, it was all I could do to keep up with media interview requests.”
Geekman told us that he was sorry to have to shut down the site without notice, but in the absence of others immediately stepping up to take over the running of the site, he had no alternative. He also said that he was disappointed that nobody stepped in with a replacement site when TextBook Torrents was down for 3 weeks in August, but hopes that someone will do so now.
When asked if book publishers have learned anything from the whole affair, Geekman said he doubted that: “Intellectual property corporations are notorious for missing the point. Like I’ve said before, we were out to make a statement, to give out as much free stuff as possible, and I think we’ve made that statement – perhaps not as loudly as we could have given another few months and a little more perseverance – but certainly people have heard, and are talking. Piracy will never be sustainable for the textbook industry, but perhaps this is the first step towards a more sustainable model in the future.”
When a torrent site goes offline, especially when it’s quite a quick shutdown, it’s inevitable that users get nervous that somehow they could be implicated if the site’s logs fall into the wrong hands. However, ex-users of the site have absolutely nothing to fear in this respect: “Textbook Torrents files, including logs and backups, have been permanently removed from all servers where they were stored,” notes Geekman, “We no longer have any data on the site or its users.”
All donations made to the site have been secured for the possibility of mounting a legal defense, should the need arise. However, once it’s established that Geekman is in the clear, whatever money is left over will be donated to a textbook or education-related non-profit organization. For his part, Geekman says he will ceremonially take the last $12 for himself, to cover the only thing he ever paid for on the site – the domain registration.
“I’m an activist, I’ll freely admit it but I believe activism is about a lot more than parading around holding a sign,” Geekman told TorrentFreak. “There are far more effective ways to get peoples’ attention.”
There can be no denying that TextBook Torrents did just that.