Is This Right? Is This Legal?
I typed in 'Computational Complexity' on amazon.com to get the reference info for Christos H. Papadimitriou's textbook of the same name. Here's what I got instead.
It's a 'Cram101' production, an outline of Papadimitriou's textbook. His last name appears on the cover, but not his first name or classy middle initial, suggesting he had nothing to do with it.
So, is this right? Does such an outline contribute enough to warrant its own copyright, or does it infringe on Papadimitriou's?
One might argue from the precedent of 'Cliffs Notes' for novels, but there are some obvious differences. Cliffs Notes summarize, but do not reproduce, the artistry or enjoyability of novels, whereas cram101 presumably makes a direct substitution: their skimpier expository writing, modeled directly on Papadimitriou's careful exposition. Cliffs Notes add a modicum of clarification, criticism, thematic discussion, etc., whereas it's not clear what if anything Cram101 adds (please note that I haven't looked inside, and am prepared to reconsider the issue if the publisher or anyone else wants to show me the book).
I have heard it expressed that Papadimitriou's book is hard reading, but there are other, more elementary textbooks out there
covering much of the same content. The things in the text that are not in most TOC books (extensive logic and some necessarily hard advanced topics like Razborov's Theorem) are probably not going to be tested heavily in class, other than familiarity with the theorem statements--and you can get that easily enough from the textbook.
So I'm guessing the motivation and main selling point for this book is its much lower price compared to the original text. I can sympathize--I spent more than a semester ducking into Cody's Books to read from 'Computational Complexity''s sumptuous, glossy pages before my parents bought it for me as a high-school graduation present. Expensive textbooks (and journals) hurt science just as they hurt the college students who are forced to buy them, and outlines like Cram101's are a by-product. (Let me add that a) I don't blame Christos for his book's price, b) it was for me a life-changing book, worth its price many times over and still one of my favorite books.)
Still, Cram101's costs are low partly because they are free-riding on Christos' considerable labors. Is a discussion of the larger academic publishing industry really necessary in this case? Again I ask--is this right?
As an independent point, I think amazon's presentation of the product is slightly duplicitous: though it does point out this is not
the textbook, it lists 'Papadimitriou' as the author, and it gives reviews of the textbook in place of reviews of the outline. Also, Christos' book comes up much lower in the search results.
Update 12/02: After being alerted to the Cram101 phenomenon, Christos said he'd see what he could do about it. Now I see that some changes have been made on the amazon page:
i) Papadimitriou is no longer linked to as the author;
ii) The title header has been changed--now it is prefaced as 'Outlines & Highlights for' C.C.;
iii) It now comes up below Papadimitriou's book in searches (though this may have more to do with sales-rank than intentional policy).
These are all positive steps. On the other hand, one still might wish that
i) Comments on Papadimitriou's book weren't displayed with this one, as they still are;
ii) amazon would have the sense to stop selling a book that is not only of questionable legality, but that multiple readers have characterized as a scam that doesn't even deliver the plagiarized content it promises. At the very least they could comment on their decision to sell it, offer customers a look inside this book, etc.