The Viability of the $30 Casebook: Intellectual Property, Voluntary Payment, Open Distribution, and Author Incentives

29 Pages Posted: 23 May 2013 Last revised: 31 Mar 2015

Date Written: May 2, 2013


It is not uncommon for a new hardbound copy of today’s law school casebooks to exceed $200. And, each year, the prices inch ever higher. After exploring the various dynamics in the traditional publishing market that have led to the current prices for casebooks, this article describes the experiences of Semaphore Press, a publisher of law school casebooks that offers a very different approach to providing law school casebooks. Semaphore Press offers digital copies of required textbooks for law school classes, (in pdf format with no digit rights management (DRM) restrictions), at a suggested price of $30. In addition, students can alter the price they pay, paying less or more than the suggested price, or they even download a copy of a required casebook for free. Semaphore Press’s commitment, embodied in this design, is that - whatever else happens - the student obtains access to the course materials.

This article explores the viability of this model, sharing data gathered over past semesters. Approximately 83% of students enrolled in courses in which a Semaphore Press book was assigned paid for the book. The article details the amounts of student payments, and explores why students may be paying for digital books that they know they can obtain for free. The Semaphore Press experience with digital casebooks containing no DRM suggests that under current market conditions, a voluntary payment distribution model with a suggested $30 price is not only a model welcomed by law students, but it is a viable option both for authors and adopting professors.

Keywords: legal education, publishing, DRM

JEL Classification: I22, K29, L82, O30

Suggested Citation

Loren, Lydia Pallas, The Viability of the $30 Casebook: Intellectual Property, Voluntary Payment, Open Distribution, and Author Incentives (May 2, 2013). Journal of Intellectual Property Law, Vol. 22, 2014, Lewis & Clark Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-19, Available at SSRN: or

Lydia Pallas Loren (Contact Author)

Lewis & Clark Law School ( email )

10015 SW Terwilliger Blvd.
Portland, OR 97219
United States
503-768-6755 (Phone)
503-768-6671 (Fax)

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