You buy it, you don’t own it

There is a case coming to the Supreme Court that you need to keep an eye on. It has none of the pomp and circumstance of the health care ruling, but its ruling could ripple through our society. If you follow my blog at all, you know I’m not a fan of ebooks, the bizarre “renting” way we supposedly “buy” them from many retailers, and Amazon’s practices against the publishing industry in particular. You’ve probably also seen a post here or there going after the ridiculous EULAs software and web companies put in place to attempt to steal from us all of our consumer rights. Well, it seems all of these forces that would love to rip away any and all rights we enjoy as purchasers believe they have found the perfect case to really wedge their foot in the door. The case is Wiley vs Kirtsaeng.
I think the initial reaction is to side with Wiley. They deserve to make a profit on their books.  But they did. They were sold to Kirtsaeng in an entirely legal matter. He owns them. This isn’t even under the shady bullshittish EULA terms that Amazon has attempted to protect themselves under saying you’re really just purchasing the right to access those books. These are solid, physical chunks of paper and cardboard. But he imported them from another country! That’s not fair!

Yes, it is. It’s entirely fair. In fact, people import goods all of the time for sale. They also export goods. What if you realized that you could make a ton of money buying scissors at WalMart and then UPSing them to your Cousin BuckMaker in Saudi Arabia who sells them at a massive mark up. Would you think that was legal? You bought the scissors at WalMart, you have a receipt for them. By any real standard you are the owner of those scissors and should be able to do with them what you wish. Including sending them to your cousin halfway around the world to sell at a markup and make some bucks with.

Of course, this goes beyond textbooks. Publishing companies are claiming that the worries over the ruling of this case are being blown out of proportion, that no one would be coming after libraries, etc. Really? That’s why publishing companies still haven’t set up a respectably decent way of renting ebooks from libraries. It’s not that they want to totally control how their product is disseminated and to bleed every penny from every potential revenue source while not attempting to alter their business practices to meet the changing world, it’s just that, well,….it’s just a big misunderstanding, right?

Not right. Pretty wrong, actually. If we should have learned anything by now it is that big business, whether it be wall street, utility companies or publishing conglomerates, will abuse the hell out of whatever powers are given to them. I’m not a fan of Amazon’s practices, but this is really looking at the same deal from a different hand. A win for Wiley could mean a radically altered (and besieged) library system. It could mean the death of resale shops like Half Price Books, Gamestop, and Buybacks. It could be the beginning of the end for consumer rights.

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