The Parade of Horrors is Delayed
March 19, 2013 9:19 AM   Subscribe

The Supreme Court has held that the First Sale Doctrine applies to copyrighted material manufactured and sold abroad. (Previously)

Description of Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons on SCOTUSblog
posted by anewnadir (87 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Voting in the minority: Ginsburg, Kennedy and Scalia.

Well. That's different.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:19 AM on March 19, 2013 [15 favorites]


I've been following this issue since I heard of the fascinating Supreme Court tie in Costco v. Omega (which is basically the exact same issue).

I'm happy this turned out the way it did.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:21 AM on March 19, 2013


[ Huge sigh of relief ]
posted by wotsac at 9:24 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


This Court keeps surprising me lately. In a good way.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:30 AM on March 19, 2013


Thank the God(s)

But done worry, they will screw us on the voting rights act case as well as the voter registration case.
posted by photodegas at 9:32 AM on March 19, 2013


I just let out a very un-librarianlike whoop...worth it!
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:35 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well this is a nice way to start the day.
posted by Arbac at 9:35 AM on March 19, 2013


A selection of comments from the previous metafilter thread on this case:
1. This court loves to espouse theories even more expansive than asked for by whomever they end up deciding in favor of—especially if by doing so it can help out monied interests (like multinational publishing conglomerates) and/or chip away at social programs hated by the right (like public libraries). It is entirely accurate to say that "it could mean the end of public libraries" regardless of what theory Wiley is pushing.
2. Yeah, despite any arguments from either side; after Citizens United I always brace for the SCOTUS to do the absolute worst.
3. I think you'll find the free market is only good when the rich people are running it. Arbitrage (from poor people) will destroy us all.
I don't put these here because I think that those who predicted a win for Wiley should be ridiculed and those who predicted a win for Kirtsaeng praised. Instead, I think the result of this case, when contrasted with the doom-and-gloom comments on MeFi (ostensibly a source of well-reasoned debate on topics like this) should be a warning. The Supreme Court does take itself fairly seriously, for better or worse. There are compelling issues on both sides of arguments like this (and, dare I say, Citizens United). Boiling down the Supreme Court's opinions to mere political play-acting won't positively affect the Supreme Court's future decisions; if anything it will make them more politicized because future justices will feel like Americans only care about the results of the cases it hears, not the rule of law.
posted by anewnadir at 9:36 AM on March 19, 2013 [17 favorites]


SCOTUSblog analysis
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:37 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hey all you students in the developing world - this is the reason your textbooks will now cost as much as they do in Los Angeles.
posted by three blind mice at 9:38 AM on March 19, 2013 [15 favorites]


A quick summary: A Thai national attending college in the US noticed that his books cost a fortune. The exact same books, printed under legitimate license in Thailand, were much cheaper.

So he started importing them and selling them to his fellow students. The copyright owner, Wiley, sued him and claimed that this wasn't permitted.

The Supreme Court just decided that it was. The Doctrine of "First Sale" covers this.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:39 AM on March 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


Here's a discussion of the case.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:40 AM on March 19, 2013


Ginsburg's dissent is powerfully argued and seems fairly persuasive as to legislative intent to me. I find it hard to comprehend how an item clearly and obviously not controlled by US Copyright law (a textbook being produced outside the US) can be considered to have been made "under this law" when it comes to importing it into the US.
posted by yoink at 9:44 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


My goodness! This will turn Ebay, Half.com, ABEbooks, and Alibris into a veritable morass of grey-market goods and international editions!
posted by Nomyte at 9:44 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, look, Scalia is wrong about another thing.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:45 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


A selection of comments....

As the author of the first of these comments, I am certainly happy to be wrong in this case.

I don't have the time to read the full opinion right now—is there any indication whether, under this ruling, Costco or Omega would have won? The SCOTUSBlog piece didn't seem to directly address this.
posted by enn at 9:46 AM on March 19, 2013


Hey all you students in the developing world - this is the reason your textbooks will now cost as much as they do in Los Angeles.

Yeah, I'll be interested to see how this shakes out going forward and what the profit/loss analysis for the publishers will be. They'll obviously have to figure future, even larger scale, arbitrage on prices into any publication and pricing calculations. I wonder if they might be able to find some way to separate their offshore publishing outfits more completely so as to break the "under this law" aspect of the ruling? Could Wiley simply set up a completely separate publishing imprint overseas that publishes "separate but equal" texts for the overseas market?
posted by yoink at 9:48 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Other than donations from publishing companies I can't figure out why Ginsburg, Kennedy and Scalia would disagree with the majority. It seems clear cut to me that the First Sale Doctrine should apply here. The idea that a used item produced outside the US should have different legal protection is silly and completely without any logic.

Among the problems such a ruling would cause is how do you define "made outside the US"? If it all US materials but assembled outside the US? The other way around? What if is just packaged outside the US?

Such lawsuits just drill home the proof that textbooks are grossly overpriced with no bearing on supply/demand or cost to manufacture. It is a monopoly business and always screws the consumer.
posted by 2manyusernames at 9:55 AM on March 19, 2013


yoink: "Hey all you students in the developing world - this is the reason your textbooks will now cost as much as they do in Los Angeles.

Could Wiley simply set up a completely separate publishing imprint overseas that publishes "separate but equal" texts for the overseas market
"

Or maybe Wiley will now do fully localised, Thai-language (e.g.) versions of their textbooks? They could still sell them for the same price, but they'd hardly have the same value to the vast vast majority of English-speaking US students.

Oh, and while they're at it, they'll raise the prices of all their books.
posted by barnacles at 9:57 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hey all you students in the developing world - this is the reason your textbooks will now cost as much as they do in Los Angeles.

The last time one of our uni's students bought a textbook, people from a hundred miles in every direction came to stare at him in wonder, all wearing their best and of course with an onion tied to their belt, which was the style at the time.
posted by Iosephus at 9:58 AM on March 19, 2013 [20 favorites]


I find it hard to comprehend how an item clearly and obviously not controlled by US Copyright law (a textbook being produced outside the US) can be considered to have been made "under this law" when it comes to importing it into the US.

It's a book written/produced by US authors and a US publisher. It happens to be printed and distributed in Asia.

As mentioned in the ruling, if the law is considered to not apply, then it would also not apply to pirated copies produced abroad. In order for the law to hold water in prosecuting illegally manufactured copies, the First Sale doctrine must apply to these books.
posted by explosion at 10:00 AM on March 19, 2013


Other than donations from publishing companies I can't figure out why Ginsburg, Kennedy and Scalia would disagree with the majority.

Too bad the Supreme Court will never reveal the thinking behind their secret, secret decisions. Gosh, if only we could find some trace, somewhere of Ginsburg's reasoning for disagreeing with the majority. Wouldn't that be sweet?

But I guess, given the utter impossibility of that, we're just left with having to suggest that Ruth Bader Ginsburg got bought off by bribes from publishing companies. You know, because that's how she rolls.
posted by yoink at 10:01 AM on March 19, 2013 [19 favorites]


It's a book written/produced by US authors and a US publisher. It happens to be printed and distributed in Asia.

Go into a Thai bookshop. Buy a copy of one of those textbooks. Photocopy ten more copies and sell them to students in Thailand. Do you think you are liable for prosecution under US law? No, you're not. Because US copyright law does not apply to those books, regardless of their "US authors" and "US publisher." If US copyright law does not apply to them, then how on earth can they be regarded as having been made "under that law"?
posted by yoink at 10:07 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can't dig into this at work, so I'll just ask: does this have any ramifications for folks (like me) who publish digitally? Is this going mean big changes for practices like Digital Rights Management?
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:08 AM on March 19, 2013


Other than donations from publishing companies I can't figure out why Ginsburg, Kennedy and Scalia would disagree with the majority. It seems clear cut to me that the First Sale Doctrine should apply here.

Have you read the dissent? The issue is how to square the importation ban (in Section 602) with the first sale doctrine (in Section 109). It's not easy, and the court's previous case on the issue (Quality King) makes it even harder because it says that the first sale doctrine applies to importation under 602. Wiley's argument was that, given that Section 602 exists, Congress obviously intended to permit rights holders to set up differing price structures in differing markets, and the ruling today makes that impossible as a practical matter. The majority agrees that it's going to be very tough to enforce those kinds of pricing restraints in the future, but held that if Congress meant to do that using 602 they are going to have to try again.

As usual, Kagan's concurrence is really interesting. She basically says what the Congress should do is tell the Court it was wrong about Quality King and the first sale doctrine only applies to sales, not importation. That way there can be bans on (presumably large scale) importation without harming the important interests protected by the Section 109 first sale doctrine.

So the short, non-cynical answer to your question (Supreme Court justices don't get "donations") is that Congress has set up a complex and internally contradictory system, and those Justices are trying, in good faith (in this particular case) to figure out what it means.
posted by The Bellman at 10:08 AM on March 19, 2013 [15 favorites]


I find it hard to comprehend how an item clearly and obviously not controlled by US Copyright law (a textbook being produced outside the US) can be considered to have been made "under this law" when it comes to importing it into the US.

Because the item can still be created in accordance with the US law even if said law doesn't actually control it until it crosses the US border (and it doesn't hurt that a copy manufactured at the direct request of its copyright-holder is by definition legal according to the statute - no procedural quibbling anymore, since the copyright notice stopped being mandatory). That's the definition of "under" - which is, legalistically, an extremely fluid word - that the majority uses.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:08 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


So how might this affect (if at all) DVD/BluRay region coding and the DMCA protections thereof?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:10 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Instead, I think the result of this case, when contrasted with the doom-and-gloom comments on MeFi (ostensibly a source of well-reasoned debate on topics like this) should be a warning.
posted by anewnadir at 11:36 AM on March 19


I agree completely, and I have frequently sounded this warning. It's getting to the point that on anything related to the Court, the same canards will be thrown out. And if someone mentions Citizens United, it almost guarantees that person is incapable of talking about the Supreme Court in any rational or informed manner. (These are the same people who make the demonstrably false claim that the Supreme Court gave corporations the same rights as people in Citizens United and don't care that they are wrong because it isn't about the actual legal issue; it's about a political hammer that can be used).

It would be great if discussions of Supreme Court cases would be based on what the actual issues are to be decided in the cases and the viability of those issues. Unfortunately, certain people use such topics to rend garments and predict naked partisan powerplays. The threads are often dominated by alarmist claims about what the Court will do that are not informed at all about the legal issues, which is why in that prior thread on this topic, I noted an observable law here on Metafilter:
dios' law: if a claim is being made about the particular import of a Supreme Court decision or case that explicitly states or implies that the result will be alarming and yield a transformational new world, then the claimant of same doesn't have a fricking clue what the Supreme Court is actually deciding.
posted by dios at 1:18 PM on October 9, 2012
posted by dios at 10:10 AM on March 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


Because the item can still be created in accordance with the US law even if said law doesn't actually control it until it crosses the US border

By that definition, a copy pirated overseas is made "under the law" because when it is imported into the US it falls subject to US copyright law; and that is a clearly perverse claim. Remember, if these were pirated textbooks the law would be completely clear, no one would have a right to import them and sell them in the US regardless of whether or not they had been "sold" prior to importation.

So, no, that argument doesn't work.
posted by yoink at 10:11 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Other than donations from publishing companies I can't figure out why Ginsburg, Kennedy and Scalia would disagree with the majority.
posted by 2manyusernames at 11:55 AM on March 19


Try actually reading their explanation before spewing forth such nonsense.
posted by dios at 10:12 AM on March 19, 2013


I don't follow. A copy pirated overseas is not "made under the law" in this analysis, because "made under the law" is read to mean the same as "created in a way that would be legal within US jurisdiction" and if the copy is pirated, it is by definition not legal.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:13 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


DRM is complex, mingled with international companies like Amazon and Apple with localized shops, selling products on different dates and with different content, or not selling it somewhere at all. That is before content control is added to individual items.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:14 AM on March 19, 2013


Hey all you students in the developing world - this is the reason your textbooks will now cost as much as they do in Los Angeles.

Or be unavailable locally. It all depends on the numbers, of course, but if Kirtsaeng's now legally approved business model catches on, it might prove better for Wiley et al to simply not publish in marginal countries at all, in which case, everybody loses.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:28 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just pirate your textbooks kids. Buying them is usually immoral.

As a rule, academics who earn significant amounts form textbooks sales are complicit with the publishers in the destruction of the used book market, well they wrote the numerous editions. It's more complicated for upper level texts of course, but research the publisher and author before buying.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:30 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Photocopying courts India campus controversy
All my students said they pirated their textbooks at the one university I taught at in a poorer country, but presumably the internet and ebook readers remain illusive some places in India.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:43 AM on March 19, 2013


Hey all you students in the developing world - this is the reason your textbooks will now cost as much as they do in Los Angeles.

Why on earth do you think they wouldn't just pirate them or print them locally instead? Nobody gives a shit about American ip laws in the developing world, nor should they.
posted by empath at 10:51 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't follow. A copy pirated overseas is not "made under the law" in this analysis, because "made under the law" is read to mean the same as "created in a way that would be legal within US jurisdiction" and if the copy is pirated, it is by definition not legal.

What do you mean by "created in a way that would be legal within US jurisdiction"? Printing presses are legal within US jurisdiction, and so are photocopy machines. US copyright law has absolutely nothing to say about the legal status of texts produced in Thailand so long as they remain in Thailand. To say that they "would be legal if made in the US" is like saying that "my Aunt would be my Uncle if she had balls." They "would be legal" under Icelandic law if made in Iceland in compliance with Icelandic copyright law too; does that mean that they are simultaneously made "under US law" and "under Icelandic law"?
posted by yoink at 10:55 AM on March 19, 2013


Just to give the post's title some context - from SCOTUSblog:

At the oral argument, the Justices (especially Justice Breyer) seemed particularly concerned about what Justice Breyer called a parade of “horribles” that would ensue from adoption of the publishers’ point of view.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:55 AM on March 19, 2013


Just pirate your textbooks kids. Buying them is usually immoral.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:30 PM on March 19


I'm not very good at figuring this out over the internet, but this is a parody post, right?
posted by dios at 10:58 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Go into a Thai bookshop. Buy a copy of one of those textbooks. Photocopy ten more copies and sell them to students in Thailand. Do you think you are liable for prosecution under US law? No, you're not. Because US copyright law does not apply to those books, regardless of their "US authors" and "US publisher." If US copyright law does not apply to them, then how on earth can they be regarded as having been made "under that law"?

Does the ruling say that photocopying islegal? My impression is that this covers books licensed by publishers to be produced abroad. That doesn't seem to be the same thing.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:01 AM on March 19, 2013


So how might this affect (if at all) DVD/BluRay region coding and the DMCA protections thereof?

It won't. If anything it gives even more incentive to media companies to develop technology to improve DRM, region coding, and other restrictions.

This lawsuit was all about Wiley attempting to use the legal system to protect their IP in a way that the technology of the product didn't allow. Because you can't DRM a physical book, the only way to protect against arbitrage/resale was through the court system.

If these were ebooks (with effective DRM* installed), this lawsuit wouldn't have been necessary in the first place.

*this doesn't actually exist, which is what the DMCA has things like anti-circumvention provisions.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:03 AM on March 19, 2013


Does the ruling say that photocopying islegal?

No, it doesn't. Nor did I. The point is that what you do in Thailand is not done "under US copyright law." With respect to US law, photocopying textbooks in Thailand and selling those photocopies in Thailand is neither "legal" nor "illegal"--the law simply doesn't apply.
posted by yoink at 11:06 AM on March 19, 2013


yoink, I think you're focusing too much on the "under this title" portion of the full statutory text: "lawfully made under this title".

When taken as a whole, it's easy to see how the phrase could mean "made in a way that would be legal, if it were done in a place where this title has effect". So, because the textbooks were printed by the copyright owner (who has the exclusive right to create copies of the work), the books were lawfully made.

What if the textbooks were photocopies? I'm not clear on Thai copyright law, so I don't know if making photocopies of textbooks is legal there, but let's pretend for a second that it were. Then, the photocopies would have been lawfully made under Thai law, but, because the copies were not authorized by the copyright holder, the copies would _not_ have been lawfully made under US law.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:08 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Does the ruling say that photocopying islegal? My impression is that this covers books licensed by publishers to be produced abroad. That doesn't seem to be the same thing.

The dissent's argument is that for purposes of interpreting first sale and importation provisions, they are the same thing. That is, the mere fact that a book manufactured overseas is done so pursuant to a license from a US publisher does not put US copyright law into play any more than does a book manufactured overseas without any authorization.
posted by schoolgirl report at 11:09 AM on March 19, 2013



The dissent's argument is that for purposes of interpreting first sale and importation provisions, they are the same thing. That is, the mere fact that a book manufactured overseas is done so pursuant to a license from a US publisher does not put US copyright law into play any more than does a book manufactured overseas without any authorization.


That's a helpful clarification! At least right now, I'm glad that that was the dissent & not the ruling.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:14 AM on March 19, 2013


Go into a Thai bookshop. Buy a copy of one of those textbooks. Photocopy ten more copies and sell them to students in Thailand. Do you think you are liable for prosecution under US law? No, you're not

Right up until the moment you then bring one of those photocopies to the US and attempt to sell it. Which, in fact, was the crux of this case. If Kirtsaeng had bought textbooks in Thailand and then sold them in Thailand, that would have involved US law either.

But he bought legitimate copies of the textbooks in Thailand, then imported *his property* to the US and sold it. Wiley argued that the doctrine of first sale applies only to sales in the US, and thus, these sales were illegal. The court said no, once you buy something, first sale has occurred, and it doesn't matter where that sale was made -- you own it. In importing it, you may need to pay tax on the item (since none was collected at the time of sale by US governments), but it's still your property. The new owner (in this case, Kirtsaeng) has the right to sell *his* property, which he bought it legitimately, thus using up Wiley's first sale privilege.

Note that this applies solely to legitimate copies sold legally abroad. Stolen material remains stolen - and, indeed, US law explicitly makes illegally made foreign printed matter subject to the Copyright Act should it attempt to be sold in the US, despite the fact that it was not created here.
posted by eriko at 11:18 AM on March 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


A Thai national attending college in the US noticed that his books cost a fortune. The exact same books, printed under legitimate license in Thailand, were much cheaper.

So he started importing them and selling them to his fellow students.


Did he sell them at a profit?
posted by Thorzdad at 11:28 AM on March 19, 2013


Indeed! Made at least $100,000, at which point Wiley sued him for distributing material in violation of copyright.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:30 AM on March 19, 2013


Wait. Did this just make those sketchy Russian MP3 stores legal?
posted by schmod at 11:32 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


American copyright law doesn't allow for resale of digital goods, so no.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:38 AM on March 19, 2013


I think this is different. Going solely by the Wikipedia article, it seems like most music labels don't think that AllOfMP3 has the right to sell their music at all. In contrast, the Thai publisher selling Wiley's textbooks was doing so with their consent.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:38 AM on March 19, 2013


A Thai national attending college in the US noticed that his books cost a fortune.

"Hail, oh hail, Cornell...!" (Side note: also, we have a disproportionate number of very good Thai restaurants in Ithaca.)

All the derailing in the thread about photocopying makes me nervous people skimming the thread think Kirtsaeng was pirating the textbooks, which he was not.

Also, the highly variable regional pricing of apparently-identical textbooks makes me wonder if textbook manufacturers can be investigated for conspiring to fix textbook prices in U.S. markets.
posted by aught at 11:46 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Hail, oh hail, Cornell...!"

A further note is that Ginsburg is also a Cornell graduate.
posted by aught at 11:49 AM on March 19, 2013


A further note: Ithaca is Gorge-ous.
posted by OmieWise at 12:30 PM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Indeed! Made at least $100,000, at which point Wiley sued him for distributing material in violation of copyright.

See...It's in that point where I might have found myself siding with Wiley. He basically became an unauthorized distributor. I'm not sure why they went after him on copyright. He's essentially running a business, not doing friends a favor. Go after him for illegal/unauthorized importation or some-such.

It'll be interesting how this falls-out. What other goods will people now be able to bring into the country (that aren't outright banned by law, of course)
posted by Thorzdad at 12:44 PM on March 19, 2013


posted by schoolgirl report at 11:09 AM on March 19

Can I do the eponysterical thing? Just a little? I'm sorry, I just feel like I'll never have a chance again.We can stop doing it now.
posted by amorphatist at 12:47 PM on March 19, 2013


Go after him for illegal/unauthorized importation or some-such.

The point is, what authority does Wiley have to decree who is authorized to distribute their books? He bought the books from a third party. He never signed any kind of contract with Wiley. As far as I can tell he was not representing himself as representing Wiley or being in any way approved by them. So the only legal argument they had to shut him down was this dubious reading of international copyright law which the court has now said is wrong.
posted by enn at 1:13 PM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


dios' law: if a claim is being made about the particular import of a Supreme Court decision or case that explicitly states or implies that the result will be alarming and yield a transformational new world, then the claimant of same doesn't have a fricking clue what the Supreme Court is actually deciding.

Sparx's Corollary to dios' law: The law is an ass but it is not one of the Four Donkeys of the Apocalypse.
posted by Sparx at 1:16 PM on March 19, 2013


Go after him for illegal/unauthorized importation or some-such.

I'm sure the last thing Wiley wants is the Supreme Court putting restrictions on the book sales and distribution business, which is what that would ultimately involve, and which would probably come back to bite them in the ass at some point.
posted by aught at 1:28 PM on March 19, 2013


> Also, the highly variable regional pricing of apparently-identical textbooks makes me wonder if textbook manufacturers can be investigated for conspiring to fix textbook prices in U.S. markets.

It's possible that there was price-fixing involved, but I doubt it. The problem with textbooks, as I see it, is that the person who chooses a textbook for a class (usually a professor) isn't the one who will end up paying for it.

If college students had the freedom to choose among several textbooks on the same subject, then textbook manufacturers would be competing more directly on price. Or, more practically, if professors were more willing to choose the cheaper textbook out of fairness to their students, that could be enough of an incentive to keep costs down.

But it doesn't take collusion for textbook makers to realize that, in developed nations like the US, they've got an enormous amount of room to raise the cost of a textbook before a professor decides it's just not worth it and resolves to teach the course without one. In the U.S., students can bear that cost because we've decided it's reasonable for students to go into debt getting themselves a bachelor's degree. In nations where cost of living is lower, and where higher education isn't so money-infused, textbook makers have less freedom to fuck around.

(This is leaving aside the conflict of interest that occurs when a professor wrote the textbook that they're teaching from, and the complicating factor of the used textbook market.)
posted by savetheclocktower at 2:06 PM on March 19, 2013


I'm having a hard time predicting what will happen to textbook prices either here or in developing countries in response to this.

Textbook publishers are already moving toward making everything reliant on online software that requires a subscription or a license that cannot be resold. I guess that trend will be hastened.
posted by painquale at 2:09 PM on March 19, 2013


It strikes me as interesting that this is the way a free market is supposed to work. If something is cheap one place and expensive another, some entrepreneur is supposed to notice and start buying at the cheap place and selling in the expensive one. The entrepreneur wins, the customers in the expensive place win, and those who previously sellers at the expensive place lose.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:10 PM on March 19, 2013


The exact same books, printed under legitimate license in Thailand, were much cheaper.

A technical point: I believe the Thai books were somewhat different in printing quality and some had differences in content.
posted by jedicus at 2:21 PM on March 19, 2013


The cost of textbooks is pretty much absurd when you consider what goes into making one. The federal and state governments spend a fortune on education; they should just get together and commission some textbooks that everyone can use for free. Most textbooks are only written by a small team of people, over a couple of years; I can't imagine they could possible cost more than 1-2 million per book to write. The savings would be enormous.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:10 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


As someone who works at one of the big publishing companies, I can say with authority (from a meeting we held this morning) that we are indeed looking to shift our focus from static printed textbooks to more interactive online content, which is less expensive, but yes, subscription based.

I think a book is no longer the optimal learning tool for many students, but there are certainly challenges to focusing all our learning online. It provides more powerful content, meets the students in a more pertinent learning environment, and allows us to really personalize the courses to individual students while keeping costs lower. But they don't have anything to keep at the end. It's weird to be creating what is essentially a service instead of a book.
posted by chatongriffes at 3:15 PM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


jeffburdges: Just pirate your textbooks kids. Buying them is usually immoral.

dios: I'm not very good at figuring this out over the internet, but this is a parody post, right?

As one who has put many hours into academic book writing, moral rectitude is not the first concept which comes to mind when describing the for-profit academic publishers. A system which holds the betterment of human knowledge second best to profit maximization is one in which it is entirely possible to find fault. Models other than the free market exist for production of academic text books, ones which do not have this failing.
posted by bonehead at 3:22 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


But they don't have anything to keep at the end.

It's my experience that the vast majority of students sell their textbooks as soon as the course is over.
posted by yoink at 3:26 PM on March 19, 2013


Yoink, I spend a lot of time on campus and that has been my overwhelming experience, too. Still, we get a lot of pushback over this. I've heard people describe the situation as if we are stealing the content away from them when subscriptions expire.

I've even offered to extend the subscription to any student who wanted to continue using their online products, but not a single person has ever taken me up on it.
posted by chatongriffes at 3:29 PM on March 19, 2013


It's my experience that the vast majority of students sell their textbooks as soon as the course is over.

Yes, but that's their option to exercise. And some "textbooks" live on as reference materials; I still have my copies of The Elements of Style and the Writing Handbook (the latter of which was written in the 50s by some seriously grammatical priests and is issued to every student at every Jesuit high school in the goddamn country).
posted by savetheclocktower at 3:32 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's my experience that the vast majority of students sell their textbooks as soon as the course is over.

Depends on the course. Computer science majors and other engineers are well-advised to hold on to some of the seminal works, which may be valuable resources for decades to come. I certainly kept at least half of my books from CS courses and I still use some of them from time to time.
posted by Edgewise at 3:34 PM on March 19, 2013


This is good.
posted by homunculus at 4:52 PM on March 19, 2013


Chocolate Pickle: Classical economics tells us that if Wiley doesn't lower its prices in the United States in order to compete with entrepreneurs like Kirtsaeng, then it will either go out of business or be forced to stop selling lower-priced books in developing countries. If it takes the latter option, though, surely someone will commission and sell textbooks in developing AND industrialized countries for roughly the same price.

The race to the bottom isn't all bad.
posted by anewnadir at 5:02 PM on March 19, 2013


Most video games are set up to lose money at $50 or $60 each, so that the few that don't lose money (Call of Duty) can make billions.

If the choice is "Don't sell any books in Thailand" or "Don't make any money in the States"...

Obviously first sale has to survive. But there's an argument here.
posted by effugas at 5:26 PM on March 19, 2013


By that definition, a copy pirated overseas is made "under the law" because when it is imported into the US it falls subject to US copyright law; and that is a clearly perverse claim

It seems more relevant to say that by that definition (of "under"), the versions of Dickens' novels published in America were not made under English copyright law, because they were pirated, but they would have been made under English copyright law had the American printers obtained a license from Dickens (or his English publishers) to print them. They weren't, but could have been, made in accordance with the English law.

In your case the pirated copies weren't made "under the law". You seem to be confusing "made under the law" with "became under the law". If, as you say, when the pirated copy enters the US it falls subject to US copyright law, what US copyright law would, presumably, say about it is: "hey, this is pirated, that's a no-go.".
posted by kenko at 6:39 PM on March 19, 2013


Given the games publishers already play with new editions to make old editions unsellable, I suspect what will happen is the International editions will just be the American edition of 4+ years ago. That way there will be no incentive to import them, since no-one will want that version.
posted by fings at 7:13 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


three blind mice: "Hey all you students in the developing world - this is the reason your textbooks will now cost as much as they do in Los Angeles."

Ha, you're certain they're delusional enough to think that will make them more money? No matter how good the textbooks are, at US prices they are not even in the outside realm of affordable after currency conversion. They'll simply be replaced by local textbooks (of dubious quality, in many cases).

Here's an example of the price difference that we're talking about. Here in India, Wiley's Fundamentals of Physics by Resnick, Halliday and Walker is a popular textbook for Class 12 engineering-stream students. On amazon: USD 130 (or INR 7000). On flipkart: INR 264, or ~USD 4.90. That INR 7000 is more than the national average monthly income per capita. Hence the 26x price difference.

The bottom line is, the kind of price hike that would make unauthorized large scale imports unprofitable would completely destroy sales in developing countries. I'd be terribly surprised to see it happen.
posted by vanar sena at 9:35 PM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


It seems more relevant to say that by that definition (of "under"), the versions of Dickens' novels published in America were not made under English copyright law, because they were pirated, but they would have been made under English copyright law had the American printers obtained a license from Dickens (or his English publishers) to print them.

No, that would be an instance of the books being made under US law. US law would control the legal status of books made in the US. This really isn't very complicated. I think you would have a better understanding of the issue if you read Ginsburg's dissent (it's in the first link).

Again, if you are saying that English law could choose to treat those books differently once imported to England than pirated books made in America, that is true. But that is how English law chooses to regard the books on importation. English law has nothing, whatever, to say about the making of those books.
posted by yoink at 9:53 PM on March 19, 2013


There is zero reason for textbook publishers to exist at all, really they do nothing. Ideally, we should produce textbooks as free open source works, ala Wikipedia or Linux. There are a handful of minor issues stalling this :

Academics must learn to collaborate using version control. MediaWiki was designed for writing an encyclopedia. Also, MediaWiki sucks as version control. GitHub is much better suited for books.

Academics must write using tools that typeset properly. WikiBooks has not produced many math or physics books because frankly only an idiot would write a math or physics book in anything besides LaTeX. In other fields, faculty do understand the limits of MediaWiki's markup, but often don't know better tools like LaTeX.

Academics hold writing lower-level textbooks in fairly poor regard with good reason. A calculous textbook is simply not as interesting as say a research work, or a Linux scheduler, or a Quantum Mechanics textbook.

We need an ideological campaign to compete with the publisher's marketing departments in fields with many free books.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:14 AM on March 20, 2013


Why on earth do you think they wouldn't just pirate them or print them locally instead? Nobody gives a shit about American ip laws in the developing world, nor should they.

This would require the collusion of developing world professors and universities, who might be a trifle more concerned with their appearance than their students. Not sure offhand what kind of pressure could be brought bear on them by our government or others power centers, but your suggestion would be crossing a line that they have not as yet crossed.

But I do not speak from developing world university experience. Anyone?
posted by IndigoJones at 7:04 AM on March 20, 2013


"more concerned with appearance than their students are", I meant.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:27 AM on March 20, 2013


IndigoJones, we/they (don't wont to crown myself as the speaker or any such) are concerned with appearences about this issue insofar as we don't want an asshole IP lawyer hired by a foreign company to fuck our livings on account of their greedy practices. We/they are much more concerned with our students having the proper chances to learn what they should and want to, and the situation described by AlJazeera's article for Delhi students is the standard for us in Argentina since I was a wee undergrad 20 years ago and up to right now. We try to use open source, free books, wikis, our own course notes, self-written tutorials, whatever else we can safely point to for student use, but in most subjects that only leaves you very far from minimal contents/material for a decent course. In that sense, it is a no-choice choice, if you want to still have any students after the first exam or graded lab in your course.
posted by Iosephus at 8:10 AM on March 20, 2013


AlJazeera described a fairly backward situation where copy machines remain necessary. Not sure why any publisher cares about such places. If the internet is available, then the students find their textbook themselves without the instructor doing anything. In the past, I verified a textbook could easily be pirated before assigning it, but today that sounds quaint.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:56 AM on March 20, 2013


jeffburdges, it is true that pirating textbooks through internet has taken the place of photocopying them to some extent here, where internet penetration and availability are certainly much higher than in India. However, a physical copy that you can browse at your ease in the classroom, on the bus or at home beats a digital archive for most students here still today. If they can't afford a textbook, they certainly can't afford a tablet or e-book reader (leaving aside that many textbooks are a pain to read in those formats, one of the reasons being that the pirated versions are often just image scans of the pages so there is no actual text to reflow or such). This makes for the odd situation where the students get their image-scanned pirated textbooks online and then have them printed in one of those photocopy places that give a shit about IP.
posted by Iosephus at 9:10 AM on March 20, 2013


There are a handful of minor issues stalling this

I dispute that these issues are minor.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:17 AM on March 20, 2013


eBook Pirates “Hijack” Domain Name of Anti-Piracy Campaign
posted by jeffburdges at 8:50 AM on March 22, 2013


RMS on early copyright law
posted by jeffburdges at 5:53 PM on April 1, 2013


Judge Rules That Resale of MP3s Violates Copyright Law
posted by jeffburdges at 5:37 AM on April 2, 2013


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