In one of my recent quixotic ventures I tilted at the idea that we should put on line the tables of contents of Canadian law books. This, I reasoned, would allow them to be searched by researchers, and thus mined for the unconsidered trifles they might, and often do, contain. Accordingly I requested permission from various key publishers to get and post copies of their TOCs in digital form. Irwin was great about it, as was Emond Montgomery — whereupon I ran into one of the biggies who said no, fairly unhorsing the whole enterprise.
The reason for refusal went like this:
More liberal access to TOCs of our books will only encourage lawyers to do more of a bad (and we think illegal) thing that they’re doing now, which is sending for and obtaining from certain libraries photocopies of our works or portions thereof.
To which I responded that from a sales point of view a Slaw TOC project could only help publishers. If lawyers persisted in obtaining desired material via library photocopies, they, the publishers, would be no worse off than before a Slaw TOC project. Whereas, if, as I suspected, disovering some juicy tid-bit through the use of a table of contents might just prompt one, two… or maybe even three law firms to order das Ding an sich at the full price, they’d be better off, even if only marginally.
The Publisher remained unimpressed.
Subsequently, with more time to reflect, I thought that they may have reasoned that if we didn’t put up a database of their TOCs, lawyers would feel it (somewhat) more necessary to buy the book to get the TOC in the first place. I decided I was unimpressed.
All of which raises, for me at least, two questions: Is there a good reason for publishers not to make the tables of contents of their books freely available? and Are they right that lawyers obtain photocopied material from libraries and if so is the practice licit?