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An End to Garage Sales, Flea Markets, Used Book Stores, etc

  1. Jeff Berndt profile image88
    Jeff Berndtposted 4 years ago

    So this happened.

    TL;DR: Guy from Thailand comes to USA for college. Textbooks are wicked expensive here! he says. He calls home to complain, and his folks tell him, "We just saw that same book for half the price in the shop down the road!" >LIGHTBULB!<

    Guy gets his relatives to buy tons of college textbooks in Thailand, and ship them to him. He sells them on eBay, for a profit, but still cheaper than new textbooks, and he made about a million bucks, even after buying books retail in Thailand and paying to ship them to the USA.

    John Willey & Sons, a publisher, finds out about his operation, and--get this: sues him for copyright infringement!

    Under current law, you can buy a book from a book store and then sell it to a third party without getting permission from the copyright holder--because you aren't making a new copy of a book; you're selling an existing copy that you've already paid for. The copyright holder owns the rights to make and sell copies of the work, and controls the FIRST sale of the work only.

    The the US court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit, upheld a lower court's ruling that the first sale doctrine only applies to stuff made in the USA, and that if it was made overseas, then the item is not subject to the first-sale principle.

    If the SCOTUS upholds the ruling, American-made goods can be resold, but goods manufactured overseas will forever be the property of the firm that manufactured it--you won't be able to sell a foreign car, a bottle of French wine, any books printed in Canada, etc.

    Seems to me, if I buy it, I own it, and I can sell it to someone else without getting permission from the person who sold it to me.

    What do you think?

    1. JayeWisdom profile image93
      JayeWisdomposted 4 years ago in reply to this

      It looks like copyright infringement to me if this guy took a book published in the U.S. and--without permission or purchasing the rights to reprint in another country--went ahead and reprinted, then sold, "tons of college textbooks." 

      I think the judges sitting on U.S. courts, from the lower courts all the way up to the Supreme Court, make some serious errors.  Since some types of judges are elected and others are appointments, yet there's no comprehensive examination required of any of them to ensure they know the law or what the hell they're doing....I have no confidence in any of them!

      1. JayeWisdom profile image93
        JayeWisdomposted 4 years ago in reply to this

        The rest of my answer, as with EmpressFelicity, is unprintable!

  2. EmpressFelicity profile image80
    EmpressFelicityposted 4 years ago

    I would tell you, but my answer is unprintable. I hope your Supreme Court has the sense to chuck this one out.

  3. Stacie L profile image87
    Stacie Lposted 4 years ago

    He is getting many copies of the books reprinted so that does make him guilty of copyright infringement. if he sold a few books then maybe he would get away with it.
    The company has a right to protect it's property and profits.

    1. EmpressFelicity profile image80
      EmpressFelicityposted 4 years ago in reply to this

      Where does it say anything about his having the books reprinted? The way I read it, he simply got his relatives out in Thailand to buy books that were already on the shelves.

    2. Jeff Berndt profile image88
      Jeff Berndtposted 4 years ago in reply to this

      Where does it say anything about his having the books reprinted?
      It doesn't; not in this article, anyway.

      Perhaps Stacie L has more information than this article provides? If so, perhaps she could direct us to it?

      I mean, it wouldn't be the first time an article about a legal outrage didn't have all the relevant facts listed.

      That said, according the info in this article, there's no unauthorized copying of any books. The guy had his family buy legit copies of the books, retail, in Thailand. Then they shipped these legally purchased books to him in the US, where he sold the legally purchased, non-pirated books to American students.

      I mean, check it out: if it's illegal to buy a book that was printed/bound overseas and then sell it to someone else in the USA, then the used book market will be severely affected.

      Check it: say I have a first printing of Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes, signed by Neil Gaiman. Like many comics and graphic novels, the book was printed in Canada. Suppose further that I have fallen on hard times, and have decided that I must sell this book to keep the wolf from the door.

      The book has a certain value as a retail item, which the publisher has already received: I paid for the book when I bought it; my obligation to the publisher has been fulfilled. The fact that the book is a first printing makes it more valuable (to collectors) than a second, third, or eighth printing would be.
      The fact that it's signed by the author makes it even more valuable.
      Most of the resale value accrued to the book AFTER the first sale. Time added the value to the first edition; I arranged to have Mr. Gaiman sign the book. And now somehow the original publisher is entitled to a cut if I want to sell my copy to another collector for an agreed-upon price? The original publisher already got their $14.95(US). They're not entitled to any further consideration for subsequent sales of that particular copy of the book.

      If I made photocopies and tried to sell them for a profit (actually, the way things are now, even if I just make photocopies and never sell them) then I've violated copyright law.

      But if I want to sell a used book, I'm not making any new (unauthorized) copies, am I? Nope. So why on Earth should I have to send a kickback to the firm that holds the copyright? I'm not copying anything.

      1. JayeWisdom profile image93
        JayeWisdomposted 4 years ago in reply to this

        Oh, I misunderstood. I thought he had the books illegally reprinted, but if he bought them legitimately, and he sold them, there doesn't seem to be any basis for a copyright action. Sorry!  I'll read more carefully next time!

  4. WriteAngled profile image92
    WriteAngledposted 4 years ago

    I certainly do not have sympathy for large corporations as a rule and do not tend to be an apologist for them. However, I think in this case it is necessary to look at the facts.

    Wiley has a specific scheme, which is, surprising as it may seem, philanthropic. In the company's own words: "The Wiley Student Edition, also called Red Books, is part of a continuing program of paperbound textbooks especially designed for students in developing countries at a reduced price. These books are specifically published with the main aim of helping teachers teach and students learn and are strictly meant for sale only in the Indian subcontinent"

    I don't want to get into arguments of whether this scheme results in more profits in the long run, because more people buy the books. I have no idea of what margins, if any, are involved on books marketed under this scheme.

    If the student in question had bought these books for his own use, and maybe a few more for his student friends, nothing would have happened. However, he was greedy and milked the system to a maximum, selling the books on a huge scale and making more than one million dollars profit for himself.

    Incidentally, given his huge profits, he was obviously not averse to milking his fellow students to as much over and above the price he paid as he felt he could get away with.

    I can imagine that Wiley is not happy, because this little rat has grown fat at the company's expense. The million dollars in his bank account represents sales lost to the company from students in a developed country not buying books at the regular prices. Given the parlous state of the publishing industry as a whole, Wiley's reaction is not surprising. 

    Ultimately, it is not a question of the rights or wrongs of selling secondhand books. It is about taking advantage of a scheme set up to help students in countries where the regular price of textbooks would be totally unaffordable.

    Unfortunately, the legal path being taken may well cause problems to all resellers, and all because of one greedy individual.

    1. Jeff Berndt profile image88
      Jeff Berndtposted 4 years ago in reply to this

      "The Wiley Student Edition, also called Red Books, is part of a continuing program of paperbound textbooks especially designed for students in developing countries at a reduced price. These books are specifically published with the main aim of helping teachers teach and students learn and are strictly meant for sale only in the Indian subcontinent"
      That does change things. It makes the reseller less of a good guy, since he took advantage of a program meant to benefit students in Asia. But the company isn't an innocent angel in this, either.

      Of course Wiley isn't happy. They were trying to sell their textbooks in the US at a much greater price than the functionally identical ones they're selling for cheap in South Asia. And then this guy sees the difference in price, and buys the cheap ones in Thailand and sells them (for a profit*) in the USA.

      If the guy had seen a difference in the price of soybeans, rice, or oil, he'd be a brilliant commodities trader.

      Is it wrong to buy low and sell high?

      The company was trying to do something nice for students in South Asia--this guy took a bunch of books out of that program, thus making it harder for South Asian students to get the good deal on the books.

      The million dollars in his bank account represents sales lost to the company from students in a developed country not buying books at the regular prices.
      Well, those million dollars are also sales the company got in Asia, and the company was willing to sell for that price (to some people and not others). If you want to make a moral outrage case, the way to go is the reseller took advantage of a program designed to benefit students in the 3rd world and made a profit, and making it hard for an Asian student to buy the books at the reduced price.

      But that's not the same as copyright violation: he didn't make unauthorized copies of the books, and he didn't steal the books. he bought them and resold them, which is morally neutral.

      It is about taking advantage of a scheme set up to help students in countries where the regular price of textbooks would be totally unaffordable.

      Well, that's one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is this: if the company can still make money** selling books at a low price (in South Asia), why do they gouge American students on the same books? The company is able to sell the books for a lower price, and they take US students for every cent they can get. But they're willing to sell for cheaper to students in Asia. That's a kind of geographical discrimination, isn't it?

      I mean, if the kid who resold the books is "greedy" for buying books for cheap and selling them for more money, then the original publisher is also greedy for selling books at an inflated price in the US (where students generally have more money) and a cut rate price in South Asia (where students wouldn't be able to buy the books at all at the USA price point).

      So the company isn't morally innocent in this either.

      Thanks for letting us know about the Red Book program; it seems like there's always some hidden fact in these stories.

      *Clearly he sold them for a profit; but I doubt that he sold them for very close to the same price of the US-editions of the books, as it'd have to be a significant savings to get people to buy from him instead of the campus bookstore.

      **This assumes that the company is actually making a profit (albeit a smaller one) on the RedBook program.

      1. wilderness profile image96
        wildernessposted 4 years ago in reply to this

        " if the company can still make money** selling books at a low price (in South Asia), why do they gouge American students on the same books?"

        Let's look at a possible scenario (one that I have no idea is true or not).  Wiley prints, say 100,000 books, and at that point is at the break even point.  They've covered fixed costs and overhead, but made no profit.  They now print another 100,000 copies, which produces their profit for the entire 200,000 copy run at a reasonable profit per copy.

        Wiley then prints 100,000 copies for Indian students at cost.  No profit, or very minimal profit.  This student buys all 100,000 Indian copies and resells them in America, earning a million dollars for doing so.  Wiley loses all profit for the entire run of books as those 100,000 lost American sales were their profit.  And, as you point out, Indian students lose their books entirely.

        Unrealistic?  Maybe - I have no idea what the total run was, what fixed costs were or what Wiley expected to earn from them.  I just know that loss of enough books to earn a million dollars at discounted prices had to hurt, and hurt considerably.  Will Wiley do it again?  Would you?

        As far as copyright, there is at least some precedence.  Companies can and do specify just where their goods can be sold, and often take steps to enforce the concept.  I don't see that as unethical at all; it is their product and your purchase means you agree to the terms. You don't like the terms, don't buy.  Normally violations are ignored as they don't really affect the bottom line, but in this those sales not only DID affect it, it affected a large charity effort by a company.  It's worth pursuing this time.

 
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