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‘Textbook Liberation’ advocacy wraps up

During the first weeks of school, some students compared textbook prices at different online and brick-and-mortar venues, but other students, aided by Tristan Lear, passed around pirated e-textbooks to friends and classmates.

Lear, a junior majoring in women’s and gender studies, said he helped students find 222 textbooks and paperbacks in PDF form for free on the Internet.

Operating under the name “Textbook Liberation Project at USF,” Lear took textbook requests from students via email, Facebook and in

When Lear sent students a link to download their requested textbook, he challenged them to share the book and to stand up in class and announce to their classmates that they had a link to the required texts.

Lear said many students got their textbooks and he never heard from them again, but Frank Cirillo, a freshman majoring in political science, took Lear’s challenge and ran with it.

Cirillo’s economics professor was fielding questions about the syllabus on the first day of class and one student complained that the price of the textbook was over $300.

Cirillo raised his hand.

“I was just like ‘I can get it for free for everyone because I know a website where you can download the PDF,’” Cirillo said.

Cirillo first met Lear outside of the Barnes and Noble on-campus bookstore. He had just finished pricing his textbooks when he saw Lear’s table decorated in a number of signs that read “FREE TEXTBOOKS.”

“He handed me a flier and told me finding my books was simple and to go onto the website and look them up,” Cirillo said. “I ended up going back to my dorm and instead of going on Amazon, I went on that website first. I got seven out of my 14 textbooks for free.”

Cirillo said he provided 50-60 students with the link to the textbook online.

Lear estimated the total amount of money from the students he helped, that would have been spent at bookstores, or “cartels” as he calls them, was more than $80,000. He said Cirillo’s efforts alone account for an estimated $15,000.

Looking back over his efforts during the first weeks of school, Lear said he is happy with the results and is already brainstorming ideas for the future.

“One thing I learned is this can’t just be me,” Lear said. “I sparked this conversation about textbooks and now I need more students to continue the debate.”

He is tossing around ideas for the rest of the semester ranging from a training workshop for finding books, to a “Textbook Christmas” in which students will exchange textbooks for free with one another.

“One particular grand idea involves a Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack on publishers’ websites on the night tests and major assignments become due,” Lear said. “Maybe that would get the message across?”

Whatever future courses of action he chooses, Lear said the end goal has always been about having more open-source and affordable textbooks for students.

“I just want people to know this wasn’t about just saving money on books, but about making an impact on the industry, and I think this was a good start,” Lear said.