Jocelyn Newmarch
Jocelyn Newmarch

Valuing freedom

The other day, I downloaded an entire book from the internet. For free. It was an incredibly empowering act.

In a society where knowledge is costly and education requires financial sacrifice, it was refreshing to find that someone had decided the value of a product lay not in the money one paid for it, but in the decision to make use of it. As a relatively well-off South African, I prefer to shop at second-hand book shops and reserve Exclusive Books for gifts and “must-haves” I can’t source anywhere else. If I feel that way about the books I read for leisure, it’s not surprising that academic books — often priced at R700 plus, each — are far too expensive for most students. Trying to protect copyright becomes an irrelevant issue when you’re trying to get an education.

Book publishing is an expensive business with little return in South Africa. Someone has to edit the manuscript, pay for the paper and ink and binding, design the cover art, market the book to potential buyers and so on. And of course the author deserves to be paid for his or her hard work.

But downloading an entire book for free (it’s also available for sale on Amazon) was a symbolic gesture that pointed to a world where the free exchange of information is itself valued. Now that the internet is becoming increasingly commercialised, it was refreshing to feel that not everything of value needs to be paid for.

From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies: Critical Perspectives on Women and Food can be downloaded here.

By the way, there’s more free stuff out there. MIT has made course material available online, for free, for 1 700 of its courses, including lecture notes, videos, problem sets and some reading material. Everything from humanities and social sciences to maths and chemistry is available. You can’t get credit for your courses, but it looks like a great way to study for personal fulfilment or to complement a current university course. More information here

And thanks to Real Simple magazine for the great tip!