The Daily Iowan

A possible Supreme Court decision could offer students a cheaper textbook option


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A possibly cheaper text- book alternative for college students hinges on a Supreme Court decision.

The case — which deals with how far federal law extends regarding the first- sales doctrine and copy- right law — could affect the way textbooks are made, sold, and purchased by bookstores and their cus- tomers in the United States. And with local book- store managers expressing interest in the lower-cost options, that could lead to lower prices for students.

Typically, textbook com- panies make different edi- tions of textbooks — one high-quality version for the United States and less expensive version for inter- national distribution.

Federal law allows the first purchaser of copy- righted goods to sell or give away the goods. The ques- tion in Costco Wholesale Company v. Omega, S.A, however, addresses whether this first purchase is applicable outside the country.

"This is about how much control publishers have over sales abroad," said University of Iowa law Pro- fessor Christina Bohannan. "Because they print differ- ent rules, restrictions, and prices on goods, they want to sell abroad, as opposed to goods they want to sell in the U.S. And they want to be able to control the price and all those other things."

According to an amicus brief submitted by the Association of American Publishers, textbook com- panies fear a ruling in favor of Costco could allow book- stores in the U.S. to pur- chase the cheaper foreign copies and sell them in the United States, driving down sales of the expensive copies.

"The loss of revenue from domestic editions would drastically reduce the abili- ty of publishers to compen- sate authors for their work and lead to signifi- cant changes in publish- ers’ business models, which, in turn, will cause ripple effects beyond the publishing industry," the brief said.

Nicole Allen, a textbook advocate for the nonprofit Student Public Interest Research Groups, said a ruling in favor of Costco could provide more options to students unconcerned with quality.

"In the past, students have kind of been stuck with just a few options — buy the book new, buy the book used, or go without the book — and I think the international editions might give the students more options," she said.

Some students are open to the change.

"If it has the same infor- mation, I don’t think it would bother me if the paper quality was lower and it was less expensive," said UI freshman Emily Patrick.

UI student Allen Vote said he worries the cheaper copies might not withstand wear and tear.

"I don’t think I would mind, but I can see where some people might have trouble keeping the lower quality book in good condi- tion without tearing some of the pages and all that," he said. "It might be harder to keep them in re-sellable form."

And while local book- stores say they have always tried to find the least expensive books they can buy, managers at both Iowa Book and University Book- store said if the opportunity were available, the indus- try would go for it.

"It’s just a matter of what’s possible and the eas- iest way to acquire books," said Richard Shannon, the manager of the University Bookstore."I can guarantee you that if the industry gets the green light to apply for books overseas, they’ll do it."