Used books

Courts across the land are presently working out the legal issues regarding downloading, duplicating and sharing of digital media.

But when it comes to books, these issues were worked out long ago. When you buy a book, you are free to give it away, sell it to any buyer for any agreed-upon price, throw it in a fire, donate it to charity, or store it on a shelf. Or, if you’d rather not buy the book, you can borrow it from a library at no charge. All perfectly legal!

The Text and Academic Authoring Association is working hard to call these practices into question. The reason I know this is that I recently became a member, by virtue of attending a writing workshop at my university a few months ago. I’ve gotten two of their newsletters so far. In the latest, there was an article trying to quantify just how much money was being lost because of the existence of used bookstores. Another featured tips on how to write textbooks that will obsolesce rapidly, helping to suppress the secondary market (example: include as many URLs as possible, since these won’t work after a few years). There are form letters you can mail to your senators, asking for support of legislation restricting the ability to buy and sell used books, and ideas for how to reform your campus bookstore. As someone who has bought used books almost exclusively for my entire life, this is just mind-boggling. I don’t see them wielding much influence, though. And what kind of name is “Text and Academic Authoring Association”, anyway? The word “text” in that phrase makes no sense.

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