Thursday, October 4, 2007

Barnes & Noble, the Bible and the Law

First a Bible Story: the story of Richard Dorazio of White Plains, New York. Richard was sentenced to 30 days in jail Thursday after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor petty larceny charge. He admitted to City Court Judge JoAnnFriia that he had stolen a $14.01 Bible from the Barnes & Noble bookstore.

Ironically, he will have plenty of Bible reading time in the Westchester County Jail because “… the jail's clergy provides free bibles to any inmate who requests one”. B&N is hoping to give him the time to find Exodus and the Eighth Commandment that says “Thou shalt not steal.”

Barnes and Nobles doesn’t stop at protecting it’s physical property . . .

At Harvard, of all places, B&N is actively creating their own unique interpretation of intellectual property law. You see, the Harvard Co-op that they run along with the University has concluded that prices are their "intellectual property."

This is the culmination of an ongoing battle between the store and the students. Of course, the students are sick of paying inflated prices. So to get around that many of them started to do a little comparison shopping. They went into the Co-op and started copying down the book information -- including ISBN numbers and prices. Presumably they were planning to go online to find the cheapest possible copy of the required texts.

First the Co-op began kicking students out of the store for “for taking too many notes on pricing”. Outraged students and parents confronted the store asking for an explanation.

That’s when B&N upped the ante. They came up with the ridiculous notion that their pricing, when associated with the specific ISBN number of a given book, was protected under intellectual property laws. The argument is that since the ISBN number identifies the specific edition of a required text; and the pricing formula for the specific edition was devised by the B&N owned Co-op, it was de facto their intellectual property.

I suspect that this argument is the only real intellectual property to emerge in this dispute. But maybe I should check with my attorney.

In the telling of these stories I have come across a real dilemma -- is it worse to steal or to lie?

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