Crime Doesn’t Pay

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July 05, 2017

In Knowledge is Power, the growing problem of counterfeit textbooks was discussed. Produced without care and attention to fact checking, verification and not to the standards that the education community expects, these fake textbooks enter circulation short changing both the students and publishers. Anti-counterfeiting measures are being employed by the publishing community to catch the textbooks at any point that they are likely to enter the supply chain, in addition, a step-by-step guide Anti-Counterfeit Best Practices has empowered sellers and distributors to identify counterfeits before they buy and report the ones they find.

All of this has been a resoundingly positive response to the problem and it just goes to show what the international publishing community can achieve by working together; not least because now the producers and distributors are being caught and taken to court. Publishers Weekly reports that three of the US’ largest college textbook publishers (Cengage, McGraw-Hill Education and Pearson Education) have filed a lawsuit against Follett Corp charging the company with selling counterfeit textbooks.

According to Publishers Weekly, the complaint details copyright and trademark infringement and trademark counterfeiting: “Follett, through both its college stores and distribution businesses, has been selling counterfeit copies of their books. The activity has been going on, the plaintiffs say, despite their repeated attempts to work with Follett to eliminate such sales. The three publishers that filed the suit allege Follett has “long recognized” that, by buying books from non-reputable third party sellers, it is knowingly filling its inventory with a selection of counterfeit titles.

This latter point, “knowingly filling its inventory with counterfeits” is in direct opposition to the best practice that was released with the blessing of the international publishing community. So how has Follett responded? It claims that it takes precautions to ensure a clean inventory and that this is just strong-arm tactics from the big publishers to “force students into buying higher-priced textbooks directly from them” and to cripple smaller suppliers who are just trying to: “provide low-cost course material options.The timing, Follett claims, is significant too as it follows a campaign of ‘intimidation’ to pressure campus retailers to adopt systems that only benefit the big publishers and “effectively restrict [students’] access to low-cost used and rental course materials on campus.”

So will this Robin Hood argument work? It will certainly be an interesting legal battle that plays out – not least because the retailer paints a picture of big publishers using the ‘best practices’ to gain a monopoly over the market. It is hard to see how the anti-counterfeit measures that were put in place at the beginning of the year could be thus corrupted. Both parties acknowledge that fake works hurt the whole community so for Follett to counter claim that the big suppliers are just trying to stop ‘low-cost alternatives for the students’ sounds very much like it is justifying the copyright infringements on the basis of providing a service. And if that is the case, shouldn’t it have launched a collaborative campaign with other suppliers for the big publishers to revise their prices rather than simply continuing with flawed practices that damage the whole industry? It will be an interesting legal battle indeed.

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