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Education The Courts Books Businesses

Student Charged For Re-selling Textbooks 489

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 ) * <> 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 [] 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:The advance of IP (Score:3, Interesting)

    by John Holmes ( 2619159 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:11PM (#39702807)
    When will we do something about it?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:13PM (#39702827)

    Pretty much a cartel at this point. They even got together with the teacher's unions and pretty much killed the sale of used teacher edition books on ebay and the like to shut homeschoolers out of the market. Teachers made up the sob story of kids buying teacher editions to copy the solutions out of because they just wanted to photocopy the books. Textbook makers went along since they wanted homeschoolers to buy full price new editions instead of selling used copies between each other.

    Even if you aren't a homeschooler, it jacked up the prices of textbooks immensely.

  • 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 Cajun Hell ( 725246 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:37PM (#39703095) Homepage Journal

    there are distribution channels and contracts that prevent someone in, say New Delhi, from noticing that their Addison Wesley book on Modern Evolution sells exceptionally well in the states so they are just going to set up an online store, right?

    Why would this be relevant to anyone who isn't party to those contracts? The first reseller in New Dehli would be bound by that contract, but why their customer or that person's American customer?

    Is this going to turn into another Blizzard EULA situation where they argue ownership of a book doesn't change hands when someone buys^H^H^H^H enters into a reading agreement?

  • 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 ) <> 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 [], * refusal to service equipment if imported [] (even if identical ones are sold in the country), sue non approved importers [], ... 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.

  • Re:The advance of IP (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tore S B ( 711705 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:50PM (#39703241) Homepage
    Or you could, you know, work to attain a political system where money is less of a requirement for electability. There are many ways to make significant inroads. Banning political television advertisement would be one such thing.
  • 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.
  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @04:13PM (#39703527) Homepage Journal

    The contracts apply to the seller in New Delhi. They do NOT apply to a 3rd party that buys from them and then re-imports to the U.S.

    As for the rest, if the corporations have the right to take advantage of economy mis-matches to funnel U.S. jobs to cheap overseas labor, then surely the People in the U.S. have just as much right to take advantages of economy mis-matches to funnel sales to cheap overseas sellers. Or are they expected to somehow keep paying 1st world prices when their wages are becoming more 3rd world like by the day?

  • by JDG1980 ( 2438906 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @04:19PM (#39703605)

    You do understand that there are distribution channels and contracts that prevent someone in, say New Delhi, from noticing that their Addison Wesley book on Modern Evolution sells exceptionally well in the states so they are just going to set up an online store, right?

    So what? These contracts are not binding on third parties. Under long-established law (the doctrine of first sale) if you buy a book, you are free to sell or lend it to whoever you want. Copyright law prevents the creation of unauthorized copies; it isn't intended to enforce a publisher's specific international business model.

  • 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".

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Re:The advance of IP (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Altrag ( 195300 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @05:06PM (#39704157)

    There are no such ways. Wealth and power are intimately linked, and always have been. And always will be.

    You can sometimes short-circuit that fact for a couple of generation or two via revolution if you manage to install sufficiently enlightened leaders, but that only lasts for as long as those leaders stay alive and stay enlightened. Once leadership changes you're back to a random grab-bag of power-grubbers trying to take over (and it will eventually will, even if its due to death by old age.)

    The whole idea of limited term political positions is to undermine the above truth -- no bad-egg politicians will be around long enough to do significant harm (of course, the flip side is that no good politicians are around long enough to do long-term good either.)

    Of course what we see nowadays (and probably have ever since the last founding-father-equivalent died or left politics in any country) is rather than a single long-term politician, we get groups of them working in collusion to attain their long-term goals.

    Which is kind of worse in a way, since "good" people are generally not the type to conspire and collude in order to progress their agendas.

    That said, there are definitely things that could be done to improve the situation. The primary one being a complete ban of campaign contributions -- all campaign money should come from public coffers and be distributed equally among the running parties in any jurisdiction.

    Of course some oversight would be necessary or people would just "run" in order to get some free money without any intention to win, but that's a bit of a side issue. And of course there would still be back-room bribery to watch out for, but that's already illegal so no big stepping stone there.

    I'd almost say personal contributions to your own campaign should be banned. Allowing even those produces a situation where the independently wealthy have an innate, non-political advantage over those who aren't so lucky, but might still have a solid platform.

    Its still a long way from perfect, but it would go a long way towards killing the current corporatocracy that we're facing in much of the "democratic" world.

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

    by haruchai ( 17472 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @05:21PM (#39704321)
    Why not? Isn't that what's happened with manufacturing? If you can't compete with cheap foreign labor, you're toast.
    That knife cuts both ways. I hope the judge throws out the case.
  • 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.

  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @05:40PM (#39704545) Journal

    Well, GP didn't say that "free market is a lie", so why are you asking him to account for someone else's words?

    I do regularly say that free market is a lie. Even so, I don't see a problem in pointing out the obvious inconsistencies in corporate attitudes toward free market and globalization: it's clearly good when it benefits them (i.e. manufacture cheap, sell expensive), but it's evil, and - in this case - explicitly illegal to turn the tables and have consumers shop around. And don't even get them started on free movement of labor. While I'm not a believer in free market in general, this arrangement is actually worse than a pure free market - I'll take no regulation over regulation that is intentionally screwing me up, even though ideally I'd prefer regulation designed to protect me instead.

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

    by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 ) <> 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:4, Interesting)

    by reasterling ( 1942300 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @11:07PM (#39707119) Homepage

    MOD parent up!

    Slavery was a big issue of the day but it is not the fundamental cause of the cival war. The cival war was about the extent of power the federal government should have over the individual states. The only good thing to come from the cival war was the abolishion of slavery. Pryior to the cival war most people thought of the states as "States" (i.e. nations) that agreed to federalize forming a stronger union. For many in the southern states the idea that they could be told that they could not secede from the union was unthinkable. Today, thanks largely to the cival war, we now have a federal government that tries to run every aspect of our lives.

    The federal government has gone so far that they take about 30% of our work as their own in the form of federal taxes. They call it an income tax, but ignore the fact that individuals don't make income. All the money that we make is payment for labor or services rendard. That means that your salery is a trade between you and your employer for your time, and a trade does not consttitute income. Your time belongs to you but the federal government thinks that about 30% of your time belongs to them. THAT IS MODERN DAY SLAVERY. It is inforced by a federal agency called the I.R.S. who have permission from the federal government to destroy your life if you do not surender your time to the government. All of that to say this The cival war may have ended slavery based on race, but it opened the door for the enslavement of all of america to the federal government.

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.