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Student Charged For Re-selling Textbooks 489

Posted by Soulskill
from the information-doesn't-want-to-cross-the-border dept.
AstroPhilosopher writes "The U.S. Supreme Court will hear an appeal from a Thai student who was fined $600,000 for re-selling textbooks. Trying to make ends meet, the student had family members in Thailand mail him textbooks that were made and purchased abroad, which he then resold in the U.S. It's a method many retailers practice every day. 'Discount sellers like Costco and Target and Internet giants eBay and Amazon help form an estimated $63 billion annual market for goods that are purchased abroad, then imported and resold without the permission of the manufacturer. The U.S.-based sellers, and consumers, benefit from the common practice of manufacturers to price items more cheaply abroad than in the United States. This phenomenon is sometimes called a parallel market or grey market.'"
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Student Charged For Re-selling Textbooks

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nhojovadle.> on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:04PM (#39702727) Journal

    Discount sellers like Costco and Target and Internet giants eBay and Amazon help form an estimated $63 billion annual market for goods that are purchased abroad, then imported and resold without the permission of the manufacturer.

    As someone who once foolishly bought a robotics book used on Amazon ($8) that was supposed to be the real thing ($80) and instead received an Indian release version, I must say that I do not see the parallels here. First off, the Costco case [slashdot.org] applied to goods made inside the US -- not goods made outside the US like this case. These are two mutually exclusive sets of products so it's quite different in that the big retailers re-import goods made here. I find this to be a painfully important discrepancy since, especially in this case, books and other copyrighted material have very strict distribution channels. I'm not saying its right. I'm not saying it's how things should be. I'm just telling you it's how they are. And these publishers enter contracts with affiliates in other nations. A book's value is mostly determined by its content and when you're marking that down in a foreign country through a foreign distributor, it's massively different than marking down a BMW in Mexico or a wristwatch in Switzerland. The watch and car are tangible goods that may have some intrinsic value and copyright but more importantly provide a functionality. This is not the case with the textbook. I would guess in the case of college textbooks, this guy was breaking many more laws than in the case of the watch -- especially given the United States' ridiculous laws governing copyright. In the case of my purchased textbooks, the quality of the book was horrid. A paperback binding that fell apart almost instantly and seemed to be held together with potato paste with graphs I could not read since the ink was so shoddy compared to glossy thick hardcover American release. Still, the words were the same words ... and I passed the course.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I agree with eldavojohn - send him to Gitmo!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cpu6502 (1960974)

      I don't give a shit if the Megacorp doesn't like that I purchased a cheap paperback Indian copy instead of the overpriced, glossybacked American copy. Sucks to be them. It's not my responsibility to bendover and kiss its ass..... it is not my girlfriend. I have every right as a free citizen (not a megacorp slave) to buy the cheapest copy I can find. It's called free trade.

      • I Give Up (Score:3, Insightful)

        by eldavojohn (898314) *

        I don't give a shit if the Megacorp doesn't like that I purchased a cheap paperback Indian copy instead of the overpriced, glossybacked American copy. Sucks to be them. It's not my responsibility to bendover and kiss its ass..... it is not my girlfriend. I have every right as a free citizen (not a megacorp slave) to buy the cheapest copy I can find. It's called free trade.

        I like how mod my comments are modded as Troll when I'm trying to explain why the situation is what it is yet your profanity laden brash response without any understanding of the concept is moderated as "Insightful."

        So this is my problem with Slashdot and why I come back here only to be constantly reminded to stay away and let the people circle jerk with blinders on. I'll let someone else waist their time explaining how the world works to you folk, you clearly never learned to appreciate someone merel

        • Re:I Give Up (Score:5, Insightful)

          by interkin3tic (1469267) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:59PM (#39703361)

          I like how mod my comments are modded as Troll when I'm trying to explain why the situation is what it is

          AND took pains to point out you weren't endorsing the status quo. Aside from putting "I'm not saying its right. I'm not saying it's how things should be. I'm just telling you it's how they are" in bold, it would have been hard to make your point any more clear.

          Forget reading the article, these days we don't even bother reading the post we're responding to.

        • Re:I Give Up (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki AT gmail DOT com> on Monday April 16, 2012 @04:02PM (#39703421) Homepage

          Good luck upsetting the publishing business with your brilliant views! Burst forth, you need only say these words and hundreds of years of international copyright law will crumble!

          One can only hope. The books are the same, we know we're paying over, way and above what the textbooks can be covered for. We end up having to pay for 'minor' revisions to keep concurrent or fail classes. When I was working my way through my law classes a few years ago, the textbooks alone set me back nearly $4000. Though I could buy them out of country, with the same content for $250.

          People understand very well how the world works. What you fail to understand is that people are tired of DRM, region locking, overpriced for the same material you can get elsewhere especially in a global economy where you can order something from across the ocean and pay 7/8th's less on the price. So when people want something, they find someplace cheaper to buy it.

          Hey are you gonna blast canadians next for buying american products cheaper across the border too? With regards to just about everything? I mean a gallon of milk and butter are in the $4-6 range, sure would be nice to have it like the US where it costs $1.99 or less, flat of eggs only $5 or $1.50 in the US. Or americans buying canadian drugs at a cheaper price when they know that they only have to travel a few hours to get there?

          • Re:I Give Up (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 16, 2012 @04:50PM (#39703991)

            Good points.

            Its funny how U.S. companies can ship jobs overseas to purchase the cheapest workers, but the American worker has a hard time doing the same for products.

            I still don't understand how we put up with it.

          • by Ihmhi (1206036) <i_have_mental_health_issues@yahoo.com> on Monday April 16, 2012 @05:15PM (#39704265)

            As an American I'd love to hear where the hell in the States you are buying a gallon milk for a buck ninety-nine because it sure as shit ain't that cheap anywhere around here.

            • by danomac (1032160)

              While not $1.99, there was a gallon of 2% milk priced at $2.47 in Bellingham. For us just above the border, a gallon of the same costs $4.89+ (I've seen a gallon of milk with a sticker price of $5.99 here.) It's pretty sad.

              Not only that, thanks to the dairy lobbyists, we can only bring back $20 of dairy per person on a visit to the US. Anything above that amount is taxed at 300%. I doubt many Canadians know that until they go over the limit...

              • Re:I Give Up (Score:5, Insightful)

                by aclarke (307017) <`spam' `at' `clarke.ca'> on Monday April 16, 2012 @07:21PM (#39705585) Homepage
                If you want American milk, go get it from the US. There are a lot of really good reasons why Canada has a dairy quota and why we don't import American milk. I'll give you one: rBGH. That's "genetically engineered bovine growth hormone". Yum. You can keep your cheap American milk.
                • Re:I Give Up (Score:5, Informative)

                  by bubblejet (957207) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @01:15AM (#39707711)
                  The milk I buy in the supermarket in the US is also rbgh-free. It's required to come with a legal blurb saying that the FDA has not approved any benefit to hormone-free milk. Despite this, it's been years since I've seen a container of milk that doesn't claim to be free of synthetic hormones. (I live in the northeastern US)
          • by Thing 1 (178996)

            Or americans buying canadian drugs at a cheaper price when they know that they only have to travel a few hours to get there?

            My cousin is (hopefully) recovering from cancer, with the help of international drugs because the domestics were either too expensive or not available. It seems like this whole "free trade" agreement, isn't.

          • Re: Minor Revisions (Score:5, Interesting)

            by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Monday April 16, 2012 @07:33PM (#39705729) Journal

            But how many of the professors are viciously examining text versions and reworking their classes to only use the new pages?

            I had a fun variant of this one time when I got hold of a free copy of an older version of a text book (like V2 vs V4) and it was BETTER than the current version! I am a Preface & Introduction junkie, so I compared. The 2nd Ed that I acquired was all "Thanks for da luv in the first edition, here's the second, off you go". The 4th ed went "We have trimmed and tightened the material for maximum educational impact by reducing the extraneous material that might distract from the topic at hand. Then we added more big pictures and huge 3 inch margins on the page."

            I used the older copy, kept the new one only to watch for sneak shots, and an hour extra per week I had better context than anyone else in the class because my copy was 5 pages longer per chapter.

        • Re:I Give Up (Score:5, Insightful)

          by thoth (7907) on Monday April 16, 2012 @04:11PM (#39703507) Journal

          I get what you're saying about the legalities, but this really isn't a copyright issue, is it? This kid isn't attempting to publish the books or claim authorship, he's reselling. If he worked at Goldman Sachs and were buying pork bellies or oil in one market and reselling in another, that would be called "arbitrage". Of course, Goldman Sachs is wealthy enough to afford lawyers to tell others to f*ck off, or pay for favorable legal rulings (or laws themselves, or even politicians).

          Sorry, but fundamentally Megacorp(s) don't get to have all the advantages and benefits of free trade (outsourcing production to where their costs are low), and none of the disadvantages and drawbacks. At least, not in a fair world and not in a "free market". I remember a "free market" existing when producers and consumers get choices, not when the producer gets the government to clamp down on imports so the local market is captive, all the while outsourcing production and booking profits through offshore shell corporations.

          • Re:I Give Up (Score:5, Insightful)

            by russotto (537200) on Monday April 16, 2012 @05:34PM (#39704455) Journal

            I get what you're saying about the legalities, but this really isn't a copyright issue, is it? This kid isn't attempting to publish the books or claim authorship, he's reselling.

            No, it's a copyright issue. The content industries (and the appeals court) take the position that while copyright protection applies across the entire Berne convention, that copyright exhaustion -- the idea that by selling a particular copy, the copyright holder no longer can control distribution of that particular copy -- applies on a country by country basis. And that therefore importing a copy of a copyrighted item without the permission of the copyright holder, even when that item was lawfully sold in the country of origin in the first place, is illegal.

            It's absolutely unjust and ridiculous (just like much of copyright law) -- which means the Supreme Court will probably support it.

            • Re:I Give Up (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Half-pint HAL (718102) on Monday April 16, 2012 @07:38PM (#39705757)

              It's absolutely unjust and ridiculous (just like much of copyright law) -- which means the Supreme Court will probably support it.

              It isn't unjust in and of itself, but a means of maintaining an injustice that all of us rich westerners profit from.

              I'm willing to wager everyone reading this owns a lot of things produced in cheaper, underdeveloped countries with poor labour and human rights laws. We can afford to buy lots of their stuff because they're paid less for their time than we are.

              Our authors expect similar wages to us as consumers, so books are priced to give them something worthwhile. But people in poorer countries can't afford this. The authors accept a lower profit in poorer countries, because that's the only way they'll get anything out of them.

              Now, if the UN passed a resolution demanding free trade rules be applied to all IP-based goods, do you think suppliers would adopt first-world prices or third-world prices...? So what we'd be left with is a world where only people in rich countries can afford university textbooks. Which would reduce the education level in developing countries, making them poorer. And also less qualified to make cheap goods for us.

        • Re:I Give Up (Score:5, Interesting)

          by trout007 (975317) on Monday April 16, 2012 @04:31PM (#39703753)

          Other forms of slavery were toppled by people comming to their senses. The fall of intellectual property will be the same.

        • Re:I Give Up (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 16, 2012 @05:36PM (#39704469)
          Well, sorry Eldavojohn, his post accurately reflects my stance on the subject and points out the fact that this flies in the face of free trade. So he gets an insightful point. He wasn't exactly eloquent with his justification as some of the others below, but he was first. Plus I'm personally enraged by the prices I suffered at the hands of the textbook overlords. The system obviously screwed me over pretty hard and I had little power to stop it. So chucking in a swear word here or there also adds accuracy.
          It's only a circle-jerk because we're probably right. The blinders are off though. We see how the system ought to be, and can explain why. When others explain why it should be differently, they're usually screwing someone over.

          I really don't see your point with the "very strict distribution channels". That's lovely for them, but why do I give a shit? I can buy one for X, own it, walk over here, and someone wants it for X+Y.

          "mutually exclusive sets of products" my ass.

          A book's value is mostly determined by its content and when you're marking that down in a foreign country through a foreign distributor, it's massively different than marking down a BMW in Mexico or a wristwatch in Switzerland.

          I disagree. If he was scanning in and redistributing that content, sure, totally different. Yay cheap and trivial digital distribution. But he isn't. The book is a tangible good. With utility. You passed your class, didn't you? Not that much different from a BMW or a watch.

          Now, in terms of quality, truth in advertising, and scamming in general, sure, this guy could very well deserve to be fined. But not for any of the reasons you stated. While you're normally a pretty insightful fellow, you failed to contribute anything meaningful to this conversation. You may say "I'm not saying it's right", but then you provide (bad) justifications for why it's right... Talking out both sides of your face is disingenuous, at best.

      • by ultranova (717540) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:34PM (#39703071)

        I have every right as a free citizen (not a megacorp slave) to buy the cheapest copy I can find. It's called free trade.

        It's only called free trade if it benefits the Megacorp. If it benefits a mere mortal, it's called infringement. What it actually infringes isn't quite clear, since you aren't actually copying anything, but that's unimportant. What's important is that the Megacorp paid good money to have the laws written and interpreted for its favour.

      • I don't give a shit if the Megacorp doesn't like that I purchased a cheap paperback Indian copy instead of the overpriced, glossybacked American copy. Sucks to be them. It's not my responsibility to bendover and kiss its ass..... it is not my girlfriend. I have every right as a free citizen (not a megacorp slave) to buy the cheapest copy I can find. It's called free trade.

        I don't believe this case is about your ability to purchase cheap indian paperback books. This case is about a Thai student's ability to

      • by AngryDeuce (2205124) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:53PM (#39703287)

        Damn right. These huge corporations are able to go wherever is most financially beneficial to their interests when they're scoping out labor and raw materials, but they want to try and region-lock the final product so that we can't do exactly the same fucking thing and get around their arbitrarily inflated prices? Give me a fucking break...

        If these assholes can go to India or China to have these books made for 3 fucking cents a piece, I should be able to go buy one there for a nickle if I choose to do so. If they want to region-lock the books, then they need to be forced to region-lock the fucking labor so that we're not being bent over due to the economic disparity between the first world and the third world.

        The fact that it's not limited to tangible goods but services (i.e., call centers) these days is even more ridiculous. All of these companies claim they must do this to remain "competitive" but the cost savings are never passed along to the consumer. Books are just as expensive today as they ever were, if not more so. Even eBooks and eTextbooks cost a ridiculous amount when you take into account the fact that there is almost no overhead after the book itself is completed, and since they can't entirely stop students from sharing eTextbooks, well, they just build it in to your fucking tuition now. Remember when you could go to the library and borrow an expensive textbook you couldn't afford as you needed it and 'get by'? No more of that communist bullshit allowed, am I right? You filthy socialists get back in the fields and make room for the rich kids who can properly afford their education...

        Just another 20th century institution trying to shove a 20th century business model into a 21st century market. I won't shed a fucking tear for these assholes when they're belly up, because the book publishers have been ripping off authors for far, far longer than the RIAA and MPAA have been, and there ain't no sympathy here for those fuckwads either, believe me. I just wish more schools would tell these publishers to go pound sand and move to open source textbooks, but unfortunately, this kind of thing is just as politically motivated (and corruptible) as anything else these days. Too much money involved, too many palms being greased...same old song and fucking dance...

      • by Altrag (195300) on Monday April 16, 2012 @04:18PM (#39703595)

        You start giving a shit really fast when they serve you with legal papers demanding $600,000. If you just ignore those, you'll end up with the cops knocking on your door and a free trip to the local jail while the lawyers sort things out for you.

        Remember, you can sue anyone for anything -- only the courts have been granted the power to determine whether the case has merit (either by hearing it, or if its really stupid, just tossing it out.)

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:20PM (#39702907)

      I bought the (official) International Students Edition of a well-known electronics book (in the UK, delivered from America). The paper is a bit rougher and thinner and the two-tone graphics were greyscale, and the binding was a bit flimsier, but everything was the same. If anything, it was more useful as it was lighter than the alternative solid slab of glossy paper, and smelled much nicer! All in all, it cost me about a third of the cost of the book in the UK, including shipping from the States. I wasn't about to pay three times the price so I can have unecessary colour in my textbook!

      What did interest me was a bit white box on the cover saying "this book is for sale only in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar". Seems the DVD-style region codes extend to books as well. Whatever happened to the global market?

      On the other hand, my cunningly acquired early edition of a maths textbook were printed in the days when the answer to a log question started with "from your tables". But it still had the right answers and all the material I needed. A set of Stroud for under £10 is worth it even just for the doorstop capability.

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        >>>Whatever happened to the global market?

        Good question. About a decade ago I bought several 12-hour S-VHS tapes from england. For whatever reason JVC refused to sell any tape longer than 9 hours on U.S. shores, perhaps to force customers to buy more of them.

        • You could have bought the tapes from Canada, eh.

        • by whoever57 (658626) on Monday April 16, 2012 @04:45PM (#39703933) Journal

          About a decade ago I bought several 12-hour S-VHS tapes from england. For whatever reason JVC refused to sell any tape longer than 9 hours on U.S. shores, perhaps to force customers to buy more of them.

          Did you actually check the running times of the tapes? IIRC, VHS tapes in PAL machines run at a different speed to VHS tapes in NTSC machines, so it may be that the actual length of tape was the same, but they were marked differently for the different markets.

      • by StikyPad (445176) on Monday April 16, 2012 @04:27PM (#39703709) Homepage

        I wasn't about to pay three times the price so I can have unecessary colour in my textbook!

        Yet you're willing to pay extra for the time, bandwidth, and storage to put an unnecessary u in color. ;P

      • by Altrag (195300)

        Whatever happened to the global market?

        Its not nearly profitable enough. If you sell at a single high price, those living in less wealthy nations won't be able to afford it. If you sell at a single low price, you're not doing enough to suck dry those living in more wealthy nations.

        Its a form of price discrimination [wikipedia.org] and is a monopolistic practice (unsurprising, given that copyright intentionally grants a no-longer-very-limited monopoly over the production and distribution of covered works.)

    • by cptdondo (59460) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:32PM (#39703051) Journal

      Well, typically for electronics at least, the exporter sells the goods at a huge discount, because the distributor on the other end is supposed to provide all of the manuals, support, warranty service, etc. Now you buy one of those "bare" pieces of electronics, bring it to the US, and sell it here to some unsuspecting slob. He then tries to get warranty service and finds out he's been ripped off.

      That should be a crime.

      But a book? It's nothing but mashed up paper. Presumably it was bought legally over there, and from there on it's private property. First sale, anyone?

      What am I missing?

      • by camperdave (969942) on Monday April 16, 2012 @04:29PM (#39703731) Journal
        You are missing Title 17, Section 602 of the American copyright law:

        602. Infringing importation of copies or phonorecords (a) Importation into the United States, without the authority of the owner of copyright under this title, of copies or phonorecords of a work that have been acquired outside the United States is an infringement of the exclusive right to distribute copies or phonorecords under section 106 [17 USC 106], actionable under section 501 [17 USC 501].

        The law specifically forbids this practice.

    • by glodime (1015179) <eric@glodime.com> on Monday April 16, 2012 @04:11PM (#39703509) Homepage

      First off, the Costco case applied to goods made inside the US -- not goods made outside the US like this case.

      The Costco case was about goods made outside the USA (i.e. Switzerland in the Costco case). It is the reason why the SCOTUS ruled not to overturn the lower courts ruling.

      From the Forbes [forbes.com] article linked to in the /. summary of the Costco case.

      The Supreme Court, in a 4:4 decision, refused to overturn a Ninth Circuit decision limiting the first-sale doctrine to U.S.-produced goods. The decision upholds the right of manufacturers — in this case, Swiss watchmaker Omega — to use copyright laws to prevent U.S. retailers from selling goods they obtained overseas.

      Unless the Forbes summary is wrong, I think your comment needs to be reworked in light of these facts.

      It seems that this student has quite a legal obstacle to clear in this case. I hope some group takes over his representation to challenge the previous SCOTUS split ruling (assuming the case has merit), as the Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Omega S.A. Ninth Circuit decision was deleterious to the USA (and possibly world) economy. USA copyright law is a dead weight loss to the USA economy in general; the Costco case extended USA copyright law's application to our detriment.

    • by sribe (304414)

      ...especially given the United States' ridiculous laws governing copyright.

      You mean like the doctrine of first sale? Which very specifically means that once you buy a book, it is yours to do with as you please. For this guy to ever have been fined at all, must have been based on some weird import rules/tariffs. So, despite your rants and name-calling, it seems that perhaps you have some deficiencies in your understanding of the situation.

    • by hey! (33014)

      Yes, we all know that publishers create strict arrangements with their distributors which limit where those distributors can resell the books. The question is whether those private arrangements are binding on people who aren't party to the agreement.

      Everything you say is true, but beside the point. You seem to be asserting that if a company works really hard toward some goal that somehow it is the role of the law to prevent others from doing things that undermine that goal. While I can certainly understan

  • The advance of IP (Score:3, Insightful)

    by colinrichardday (768814) <colin.day.6@hotmail.com> on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:04PM (#39702731)

    When will they stop? Ever?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by John Holmes (2619159)
      When will we do something about it?
  • Silly. (Score:4, Informative)

    by tripleevenfall (1990004) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:05PM (#39702749)

    When I was doing my MBA, I was able to find "international versions" of textbooks on Ebay or the like. They were identical to the domestic versions but were not hardcover, in some cases printed on cheap paper - those kinds of differences. Nice way to save yourself 50% or so.

    I'm not sure why publishers foist the high-grade materials on everyone especially at the college level where the book will never be used again - that is, unless it's meant to be fit for resale.

    • I did the same for my BT. Once in a while, the international version would have the page numbers slightly off or somesuch, but nothing major. I never noticed a quality difference between them and the US versions my classmates had.

      You have an excellent point about the high-grade materials for a book with minor re-useability. Of the 30 or so books I had for college, I only kept 4 of them - none of which were intended to be textbooks.

  • by gl4ss (559668) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:09PM (#39702789) Homepage Journal

    ..in which you decide how much the product costs not based on how much the product costs to make, but on how much money the potential buyer has. parallel or gray market is just a term the content holders would like to use, since it doesn't make them look like asshats. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price_discrimination [wikipedia.org]

    it's bullshit, of course. too bad for the publishers that books don't come with drm chips.

    (I'm assuming that in this case the books were original - as in printed with copyright holders permission).

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nhojovadle.> on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:23PM (#39702937) Journal
      Let's say Addison Wesley publishes a text book on Modern Evolution and it runs you a steep $90 here in the United States. Unsurprisingly, as the gatekeepers of that copyright, some of us actually shell that out. Well, universities in India are going to want access to this same material but there's a problem and I think you know what it is. That much money means a lot more in India than it does in the United States. So we have publishers wanting to sell textbooks in India to college students but the most anybody can really afford is $9. What's worse, if they don't release a version at that price, they're just going to bootleg it anyway. So the solution is to engage in, as you put it, "price discrimination" or as I might call it distribution values based on localized income since they want to make these materials available but they want to also make a profit in first world countries.

      If you want to turn the screws on the publishers and say international trade laws are all bullshit and the books worth what it's worth and you're only paying $9 for the Indian version, I assure you they'll just sell it at $90 everywhere in the world and try to deal with the bootlegging in a much less understanding way than they are right now.

      I see you replied to my post in another question about why the end consumer shouldn't be able to resell to another country. In cases of one or two books, I don't think anybody really gives a damn, it's when you're putting yourself through college on a publishers dime that they start to get upset and bring up international trade laws against you. I'm pretty sure with how copyright law works in the states and even abroad by distribution channels that this kid is going to be screwed pretty hard.

      it's bullshit, of course. too bad for the publishers that books don't come with drm chips.

      No, it's too bad for the publishers that they are trying to sell books cheaper inside poorer countries.

      • by suomynonAyletamitlU (1618513) on Monday April 16, 2012 @04:01PM (#39703401)

        I may be speaking from inexperience here, but the problem you're highlighting is a big circular clusterfuck.

        Going back to ancient times, once a book is published the first time, it can be copied. When book-copying labor (scribes with pens) was scarce, books were scarce--but at the same time, anyone could be in the business of copying books, if they had the education and a steady hand; demand for more books was virtually infinite, as there were plenty of libraries or individuals that would pay for a copy of, say, philosophy, or math, or something else interesting. (Of course, it was dependent on local demand specifically, or any travelling traders you could sell to, and those are different...) When book copying first became industrial (printing press), book publication (both copying and first edition) became a centralized industry, with a large overhead that had to do with labor, machine costs, and transportation. But because you were doing it in bulk, you could absorb the overhead with margins on each book sold instead of sustaining yourself on a sell-by-sell basis.

        The book industry now faces two problems: it's incredibly easy to print things (albeit in variable quality), and book copying is now digital: instantaneous and costing virtually nothing. We are back where we were at the beginning, where anyone could get into the business of copying books--and thanks to digital communications, books created anywhere can be printed and distributed anywhere. Book publication as a centralized industry can only exist with the digital equivalent of mercantilism, which means that book publication as an industry needs to use its money as a leverage to prevent the industry from collapsing.

        Basically, if the entire book industry collapsed in a pile of dust tomorrow, and there never again was a centralized book publishing regime, we wouldn't lose access to many books. There would be lots of scanning and trading, and a lot of books published digitally and independently, either to be printed locally or used on some sort of reader. Maybe--maybe--certain authors that could only thrive on a centralized industry would fail, but a new decentralized industry would be born. Basically the only people who really, severely don't want that to happen are people who depend on the system as-is, and unfortunately, many of them have been filling out their wallets on those margins for a long time. It'd be nice for them to stop being selfish, but their worldview and their current jobs rely on this system, so I guess it's only to be expected that they think in those terms.

      • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Monday April 16, 2012 @04:25PM (#39703689)

        Let's say Addison Wesley publishes a text book on Modern Evolution and it runs you a steep $90 here in the United States. Unsurprisingly, as the gatekeepers of that copyright, some of us actually shell that out. Well, universities in India are going to want access to this same material but there's a problem and I think you know what it is. That much money means a lot more in India than it does in the United States. So we have publishers wanting to sell textbooks in India to college students but the most anybody can really afford is $9. What's worse, if they don't release a version at that price, they're just going to bootleg it anyway. So the solution is to engage in, as you put it, "price discrimination" or as I might call it distribution values based on localized income since they want to make these materials available but they want to also make a profit in first world countries.

        You've explained why this is a dilemma for publishers. What you haven't explained is why anyone outside the publishing industry should give a crap about their business model.

        You do not have a right to make a profit in business. Just because someone is doing something that makes it harder for your business to be profitable doesn't mean that it is, or should be, illegal. And rest assured that if the shoe was on the other foot, the publishing companies would have no compunction about eating someone else's financial lunch.

    • by jdavidb (449077)

      I am all for price discrimination; I just do not support the use of legalized force to enforce it! If you can make and sell the same product cheaper overseas, or to people with different genes, or whatever, more power to you. But if I buy your product, then I own your product, which gives me the right to sell your product under terms agreeable to me. To assert otherwise is to assert that I am your slave. Either I own myself and my property rights, or you do, and one of these scenarios is slavery.

  • by Golgafrinchan (777313) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:11PM (#39702811)
    Grad students studying in the US have been buying & selling "International Edition" textbooks for ages. When I studied in a masters program some years ago, a majority of Chinese students used International Edition books that they had presumably purchased from another international student within the US who no longer needed the book anymore. These books were generally of lower quality than the regular edition US textbooks (i.e., soft cover, sometimes black and white instead of color, etc.), but the words & graphs were all the same, and for a huge discount you couldn't go wrong. After seeing so many of my classmates using these international editions, I began purchasing them myself (and selling them when I finished the course).

    It never occurred to me that selling these could possibly be grounds for a major fine. To me, this is just as bad an idea as region coding on DVD's or disallowing Americans from purchasing pharmaceuticals abroad.

    • by DrgnDancer (137700) on Monday April 16, 2012 @04:20PM (#39703613) Homepage

      To me, this is just as bad an idea as region coding on DVD's or disallowing Americans from purchasing pharmaceuticals abroad.

      It's worse really. In the case of DVDs it's a technical hurdle not a legal one. If you buy a region free DVD player or import one no one says you can't use the DVD just because you're in the wrong region. You just have to go through the trouble of getting a technical solution to a technical problem. Granted some of those solutions are themselves illegal (cracking the encryption to make a "software" region free DVD player), but to my knowledge there's nothing illegal about buying a DVD player in Japan, bringing it here and playing Japanese region DVDs on it. The case of pharmaceuticals has at least a valid safety argument. It's pretty clear that safety is not the only, or even the primary, reason for the rules; but at least there's at least something to the argument.

      Here it's just, "you can't do that because you're costing a company some money they might make".

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:13PM (#39702821)

    That is why text book get updated so much also some professors get a cut of the book costs for the books they author so some of them rip out pages to force students to buy a new book for the class.

    Also other ways to make profit is the filler and high number of gen eds that at some College push out what used to be 4 years to 5 years.

    High cost dorm room that cost more then renting on your own to live a with a room mate and have shared bathroom with a full floor also have to go off campus during brakes.

    High cost meal plans that have hidden fees and other stuff that can force people to buy $100's in caddy as the funds are on use it or lose it cash cards that time out.

  • Globalisation Baby (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:13PM (#39702823)
    As long as custom is paid, then it should be FULLY legal. After all if firm/MPAA/whatnot can have region code, and import cheap from China, or even outsource jobs, then everybody should be allowed to do it. Globalisation and import/export as logn as custom are paid, should be fully legal. And if they (publisher) lose money on that, bad luck.
  • I don't understand (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dog-Cow (21281) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:14PM (#39702831)

    I fail to understand how the first-sale doctrine does not apply just because the first sale was outside the US. I would understand completely if ICE was coming after him for not paying duties or tariffs, but what does copyright have to do with anything here? He didn't make copies. He simply resold books the publisher was already paid for.

    • by BitterOak (537666) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:30PM (#39703027)

      I fail to understand how the first-sale doctrine does not apply just because the first sale was outside the US. I would understand completely if ICE was coming after him for not paying duties or tariffs, but what does copyright have to do with anything here? He didn't make copies. He simply resold books the publisher was already paid for.

      The First Sale Doctrine doesn't apply to copyrighted good manufactured outside the U.S. The relevant case law is Pearson v. Liu, decided in the district court of the Southern District of New York. The case was appealed to the 2nd circuit court of appeals which affirmed [findlaw.com] the lower court's decision. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court which denied to hear the case, letting the decision of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to stand.

      • by BitterOak (537666) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:53PM (#39703285)
        Apologies for replying to my own post, but I must make a correction. The link I provided was not for the Pearson v Liu case, but rather for the current case mentioned in the article. I was therefore in error in stating that the Supreme Court allowed that ruling to stand. The more relevant case, as it has already reached the Supreme Court is Omega v Costco [wikipedia.org], a 9th Circuit Court opinion which held the same thing: the First Sale Doctrine does NOT apply to copyrighted goods manufactured abroad. This opinion was appealed to the Supreme Court, but Justice Kagan recused herself, as she had previously argued the case for the government. The result was a 4-4 decision, which meant that the 9th Circuit decision stood, but it doesn't set a national precedent. This present case might well settle that precedent once and for all.
        • If I can be modded down for being a troll, can I be modded up for being an orc, or a balrog?

          If you can prove you are an Orc, I for one, am willing to mod you up!

  • by v1 (525388) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:19PM (#39702895) Homepage Journal

    can it apply to books? and if so, does it still apply if the book was violating copyright? but how about if it WASN'T violating copyright where it was originally sold? It's a complicated issue. From a purely ethical/common sense standpoint it should be ok for him to sell it, but there may be laws bought onto the books that prevent it.

  • by RobinEggs (1453925) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:27PM (#39703005)
    Every level of the textbook business is about manipulation, lies, and control, from the publisher to the campus bookstore.

    I researched the actual cost of textbooks once, and found industry websites with cost breakdowns which swore, up and down, that the profit margin on textbooks was 1%. I shit you not. You buy the 13th edition of your text for a retail price of $298, a book that's been out for 15 years and hundreds of printings, and they expect you to believe that even *now*, on the 13th edition, the publisher made well under $3 per copy.

    On the retail side, I worked for a campus bookstore and my wife was their night manager. After they let me off for total lack of available work, I decided to just sell them books I found on ebay and bought from other students. After I sold them several dozen they fired my wife and banned me from the store based on their unwritten and inconsistently enforced policy that a student can sell only one copy of a particular title to them. Why do they care? I have no idea. The only time I sold them books was the two week period after spring semester buyback but before summer classes; I gave them more copies of these books, at prices and quantities they set, during a period when their used stock was already at it's yearly maximum but still not high enough for their liking. There were no other copies for them to acquire from students, and awful NC state laws forbid them from acquiring more used copies on Amazon, eBay, etc. For this they treated me like a criminal, fired my wife, and even made allusions to whether we'd stolen the books despite the fact that there are cameras, audits, and never less than 3 people at the registers.

    It was all about control; what I did was good for their business, and they didn't give a shit. I was making money in a place they thought only they were allowed to make money. Even though it made them even more money than it made me, they hated me for it and considered it abusive.

    Control, control, control.
  • by dryriver (1010635) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:31PM (#39703037)
    How many textbooks did this Thai student actually sell in America? Was it 8,000 textbooks that normally sell for 75 bucks a piece in the U.S.? Or is this yet another case of someone selling a mere "handful" of copyrighted IP - perhaps 10 - 30 units - and getting slapped with a stupidly large six-digit fine for it? U.S. copyright holders, as well as U.S. courts, don't seem to have any sense of proportion when it comes to these things. How can you fine some 600,000 Dollars for something that damaged you to the tune of - maybe - a few hundred dollars, if at all. I hope the Thai kid wins this case. Whatever he did, it can't be worth a 600K fine. Also, if the kid was struggling so much financially that he needed to resort to selling textbooks to get by, how the hell is this kid going to pay the 600K fine?
  • by rnturn (11092) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:37PM (#39703097)

    ... two very important facts: 1.) There is a club and 2.) He's not in it.

  • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:40PM (#39703131) Homepage

    Silly man, he did not understand that globalisation is for corporates to exploit, it is not for individuals to benefit from.

    Companies do this all the time: buy goods or get them made where ever in the world it is cheapest for them to do so. They then sell them at different prices in different countries: price it too high in India and you don't get sales, price it too low in Europe and you loose potential profit.

    They can't possibly have customers doing the same thing - it would damage their profits and the CEO's bonus would have to be cut. So they adopt all manner of tactics to stop us from benefiting from globalisation in the way that they do: * region coding on DVDs [wikipedia.org], * refusal to service equipment if imported [cruisersforum.com] (even if identical ones are sold in the country), sue non approved importers [bbc.co.uk], ... All designed to distort the free market

    I would mind paying more for something that I buy in England if it were made with English labour paid English wages. What I object to is them paying third world people slave rates and charging me top dollar - I don't like the hypocrisy of it all.

  • Textbook cartel (Score:3, Interesting)

    by goldgin (1218596) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:55PM (#39703321)
    Being a student in London UK this all looks incomprehensible to me. I also find it extremely weird that you still like to call your land 'land of the free'. I'd be interested to learn more about this and other US "cartels" in education, media, health and commercial areas.
  • Just don't buy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MeNeXT (200840) on Monday April 16, 2012 @04:33PM (#39703781)

    It's getting to the point that you can never be sure whether a copy is legal or not. If you haven't read the original contract between the author and the publisher and the distributor you cannot be sure if you are acquiring a legal copy. Reading the copyright page in a book does not always state whether it is legal to distribute in such and such a country.

    Now if he had pirated the book, since he was a student of few means, he would not be in this situation where he would have the need to sell the book.

    If you cannot resell a legally purchased copy then it's best you pirate and be done with it. I don't subscribe to the idea that there is a grey market.

    • Re:Just don't buy (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Monday April 16, 2012 @05:38PM (#39704503)

      If you cannot resell a legally purchased copy then it's best you pirate and be done with it. I don't subscribe to the idea that there is a grey market.

      That's why I've given up on trying to follow whatever arbitrary rules they've decided on this week.

      I keep a lawyer and a hitman on retainer. One of those two will solve the problem.

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