CyberTech Rambler

March 20, 2013

Ramification of Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. is going to be huge

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:00 pm

Via Groklaw, I am happy for Mr Kirtsaeng (and in  general, American readers) that copyright holder cannot stop you from importing and selling textbook by simply printing a “Not for sale in United States” on the text book sold outside United States. However, I am not sure it is good news for access to text books for developing countries.

When I was an undergraduate, one of the most important text book is The Art of Electronic, and the price for the book in UK, even after taking into account it is a hardback book,  is high. (This is still very true today even with  Amazon.co.uk discount). However, since I am from South East Asia, I found out, too late for my particular case, that I can get the book from a book store there during one of my holiday for about a quarter of the price in UK. Yes, it is paperback and the paper quality is really poor, but even assuming I have to buy multiple books to compensate for the enhanced wear and tear poor quality, it will take me decades to wear out two copies and it still represents a saving of at least half the UK cover price.

It does have the standard notice on it that says that in return for the publisher selling you the book at a cheaper price, the book is not to be taken into developed countries. I did wonder whether it is illegal to bring it into UK if I bought it. Of course, it was pre-GrokLaw days, I am not aware that there could be an equivalent of the first sales doctrine in UK, and also wrongly thought that UK Custom will  seize the book from me

In the end, the real deterrence for me not to take the book into UK was that I do not want to become one of those people whose action caused the publisher to withdraw schemes that sell books cheaper in developing countries .  My parents can afford to send me overseas to study. I should not forget that I have friends who are academically way better than me but have to stay behind because their parents cannot afford to send them overseas. The least I can do is not to upset the arrangement which give them the opportunity to access text books.

With this Supreme Court decision, publishers will now be more hesitant to sell books at a discount in developing countries. I am worry that will disadvantage students in developing countries. Some may argue with today’s technology a student have free access to resources online, but let’s not forget in a lot of places people have no or very limited access to  the internet.

One can be sure that if publisher do not sell books at a discount, it will simply encourage piracy, in the form of cheap illegal photocopies of those textbooks. People will justify this by saying they have no choice as they cannot afford the high price, and since they don’t care about us, why should we  care if we pirate their wares.

In the end, everyone lose.

I am not taking the side of the publishers. In fact, if you examine those cheaper books carefully, you will find that they are not cheaper from the goodness of a publisher’s heart, but  because they are subsidized by rich world governments. Thus, one way around this is for rich world countries to increase the subsidy they pay. Nonetheless, it will means the text books reach less people than it would had.

Thus, I am not sure this is a good decision for access to text book.

All I can say is, there will be big ramifications, especially for developing countries.

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