Maggie Knooihuizen, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Spring 2015 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: Discount Books. While studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Nick met Pablo. Pablo told Nick that he, Pablo, was able to legally purchase textbooks for extremely discounted rates, usually $10 to $15 per book. Nick cut a deal with Pablo to re-sell them to Pepperdine students in Malibu. Pablo bought and shipped books to Nick for $40. Nick sold the books for $150-200 each. One afternoon, Nick received a cease and desist letter from the publisher alleging that Nick was infringing upon their copyrighted material. Is Nick in violation of copyright law?
Every college student appreciates a guy like Nick. He can tell you all about his studies in Buenos Aires, set you up with a cute local named Pablo and sell you cheap text books! What’s not to love? But ladies, you should be careful, he won’t be able to afford those fancy dinners and drinks much longer because his ass is getting sued.
Nick thought he had a sweet set up where his buddy in Buenos Aires, Pablo, bought and shipped him textbooks for him to sell to Pepperdine students in Malibu at extremely discounted rates. It’s common knowledge that nothing gets a college student more excited than a discounted textbook (other than no text book at all) so I am sure Nick was making quite the killing for himself. However, the sad part about this story is that poor Nick probably had no idea he was committing a crime by violating U.S. copyright law. Because who knew selling a book was illegal?
You may be thinking, “finders keepers, losers weepers,” or “if you bought it, you own it,” but apparently selling a used or old book is all fun and games until someone crosses the border. This was found in the Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons case in 2013. Here, similar to Nick, Mr. Kirtsaeng was selling discounted books in the U.S. from Thailand. The publishing company sued Mr. Kirtsaeng for $600,000 because inside the books, it says, “This book is authorized for sale in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East only [and] may not be exported.” The publisher’s argument is that the reason books are sold cheaper in foreign markets is because poorer countries simply cannot afford books at American prices.
Yes, this concept can be widely understood, but the publishing companies should cut the poor college kids a break for Christ’s sake. Moral of the story: you can’t always trust a guy like Pablo.
Maggie is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in public relations.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.