Thursday, September 20, 2007

Yeah. And Walmart owns all the barcodes, too

Ho ho ho, this is rich.

Back when I was in college, students were at the mercy of the campus bookstores when it came to their textbooks. Today, they can save a bundle by just going online. Well, it looks like at least one campus bookstore ("The Coop" at Harvard University) is not going gracefully into that good, good night (Via BoingBoing):

Jarret A. Zafran '09 said he was asked to leave the Coop after writing down the prices of six books required for a junior Social Studies tutorial he hopes to take.

"I'm a junior and every semester I do the same thing. I go and look up the author and the cost and order the ones that are cheaper online and then go back to the Coop to get the rest," Zafran said.

"I'm not a rival bookstore, I'm a student with an I.D.," he added.

Coop President Jerry P. Murphy '73 said that while there is no Coop policy against individual students copying down book information, "we discourage people who are taking down a lot of notes."

The apparent new policy could be a response to efforts by—an online database that allows students to find the books they need for each course at discounted prices from several online booksellers—from writing down the ISBN identification numbers for books at the Coop and then using that information for their Web site.

Murphy said the Coop considers that information the Coop's intellectual property.

Crimson Reading disagrees. "We don’t think the Coop owns copyright on this information that should be available to students," said Tom D. Hadfield '08, a co-creator of the site.

According to UC President Ryan A. Petersen '08, discussions with an intellectual property lawyer have confirmed Crimson Reading's position.

ISBN data is similar to phone book listings, which are not protected by intellectual property law, Petersen added. Every book title has a unique ISBN number, short for "international standard book number."

The alleged new rule is just the latest hurdle for

During a meeting of the Committee on Undergraduate Education last March, Petersen proposed creating a centralized database of ISBN numbers for all courses, streamlining the process for professors and cutting the costs for the Coop. The proposal, which could have also made it easier for Crimson Reading to collect information, was nixed.

"There's a very lucrative and sensitive relationship between the Coop and University Hall that is stopping students from saving money on textbooks," Hadfield said.

Zafran, after his altercation with the Coop, does not feel much sympathy for the store. "If they want to get their revenue up they should slash their prices," Zafran said. "I think if anything, this policy will have the reverse effect because if students aren't allowed to comparison-shop, students will just get all their books online," he said.

Zafran is correct. The only thing that the Coop has going for it is the fact that it is local and students can get a book from there right now. If they keep up these petulant little displays, then even that advantage will be overshadowed by their arrogant tactics.

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