Harvard lawyers shred Harvard Coop's claim that book prices are "property"

Copyright lawyers from Harvard's Berkman Center have written an article in the Harvard Crimson excoriating the Harvard Coop bookstore for claiming that its prices are "intellectual property."
We're not sure what "intellectual property" right the Coop has in mind, but it's none that we recognize. Nor is it one that promotes the progress of science and useful arts, as copyright is intended to do. While intellectual property may have become the fashionable threat of late, even in the wake of the Recording Industry Association of America's mass litigation campaign the catch-phrase--and the law--has its limits.

Since the Coop's managers don't seem to have read the law books on their shelves, we'd like to offer them a little Copyright 101.

Link (Thanks, Wendy!)

See also:
Harvard Coop calls cops on students who wrote down textbook ISBNs
Harvard bookstore: Our prices are "property"


  1. These articles are great and all, but has anyone heard what the Coop has to say back? What kind of defense do they have against this obvious lack of smarts?

  2. Oh, goodness. My favorite line is: “Locking competitors out from price comparison is not part of copyright’s aim.”

  3. That the police were called over something as trivial as someone getting price information gives me the impression that the coop’s manager is rather Gomer Pyle-esque and spends their days scurrying about yelling, “CITIZEN’S ARREST! CITIZEN’S ARREST!”

    My only advice to that individual would be: Study harder or you’ll be trapped as a petty tyrant in your own Barney Fife-dom for the rest of your life.

  4. Writing down ISBNs?

    How last millennium!

    Use the camera on your cellphone. It’s a lot faster and you can upload the image of the ISBN and it’s barcode to your computer and have a script you’ve written analyze the image and parse the data it and run a web search for the least expensive copy of that book…


    Oh, HARVARD students at the Harvard Coop. Not MIT students.

    Never mind.

  5. It’s pretty clear to me, that the claim of “prices as intellectual property” is simply an unfair business practice, as ridiculous as listing the boss’s pet canary as CEO (in the event of a federal indictment, the canary takes the fall!) Why don’t they just make the prices completely secret, so the only way you can find out how much it costs is to BUY it. WHOOPS!. . . $400 for a dictionary?! No returns?!

  6. @Chris Tucker:

    Actually, it’s the Harvard/MIT Coop.

    But as to your larger point, I believe reading lists for MIT courses are all available online in the first place, and have been for a decade.

  7. At one point he says its the book lists from the profs that is the “IP”

    There was another thread where someone cited a supreme court case wherein a list of books was upheld as “IP”

  8. TwoShort, I live in Boston, and occasionally shop at both Coops, Harvard Square and at Kendall Sq.

    I must confess that I DO enjoy twitting the Hahvahd student body.

  9. I run an independent college bookstore in New York in direct competition with a Barnes & Noble (which has the advantage of being on campus). We sometimes get students copying down ISBNs, which, eh, sucks, but whatever. We’re cheaper than B&N on most everything, so I don’t worry about their price competition, but there’s no way we can compete with the online secondary market, which is really what the copying of ISBNs is for, since the textbook biz has a (probably intentional) mystifying array of versions and editions and varieties only distinguishable by ISBNs.

    One thing I won’t do, however, is give students ISBNs over the phone, which most students get pissy about. Your professor almost certainly has contact info listed on their syllabus. Use it. It’s not my responsibility to insure you get the correct book or edition when you patronize our competitors.

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