There Goes My Summer Home

The New York state legislature passed, and Governor David Patterson signed, a bill dealing with textbook pricing (the Textbook Access Act) that incidentally bans faculty members from selling “complimentary” copies of textbooks. This sounded bad at first, because I’ve got a nice little side business on eBay with the books I randomly receive for courses which I’m clearly qualified to teach, like Secured Transactions. But when I read Section 724(1) of the law, I immediately wondered whether it would be pre-empted by Section 109 of the Copyright Act. If federal legislation says that you can’t limit resale of a copy of a work once you’ve lawfully acquired it, where does New York get off saying that I can’t do so for textbooks? And who says law professors aren’t guardians of the public interest? Hey, lattes in Brooklyn don’t pay for themselves!

4 Responses to “There Goes My Summer Home”

  1. You fight the good fight Derek!

  2. bans faculty members from selling “complimentary” copies of textbooks

    That can’t be too good for the environment. If you don’t need a book, you should be able to sell it, so that others can put it to good use – as long as it was purchased legally.

  3. I’m having trouble seeing how this bill affirmatively bans sales of review copies. It says faculty members are not allowed to take bribes “for adopting” course materials, except that copies “that are not to be sold” are exempt. At the very least, that suggests to me that if you didn’t adopt the book, this law has nothing to say about whether you can sell your review copy. And even if you did adopt the book then sell your review copy, the “for adopting” language has a tit-for-tat sense to it, and whether you were permitted to accept the book in the first place would seem to hinge on whether you got the book in exchange for adopting it, or whether you would have gotten the book whether or not you adopted it (which seems more likely).

    But I agree that if it means you can’t sell review copies, it’s probably preempted; 109(a) says you are “entitled” to sell lawfully made copies you own.

  4. Danny, it never hurts to stand up for principle! Especially when that principle is “supplementing Derek’s income”.

    Saqib, I’m with you – it’s surprising how many extraneous textbooks one accumulates. I have no idea what to do with these things. For a while, I kept them, with the idea that I might eventually read them and learn something about new areas. Once that fantasy dissipated, they just took up shelf space.

    Joe, your reading of the statute might well be right, in which case this is much less worrisome. On re-reading the language, your argument is a good one. I don’t know NY law well yet, but wouldn’t a tit-for-tat bargain already run afoul of existing bribery laws? Or are those limited to public officials?

    I have also been thinking that this might bear on the sale of used CDs, for example, which I know some states have moved to try to regulate more tightly.