Thursday, September 27, 2007

Harvard Coop In the Doghouse

The 125-year-old campus bookstore The Harvard Coop is facing some stiff competition from online book retailers. So much so that students trying to do some comparison shopping could find themselves bounced out of the store.

The situation escalated recently when Coop management had police eject a group of students who were writing down ISBN numbers and prices from the bookstore shelves. The "offenders" work for the student-run, a website that provides information on where textbooks can be found for the lowest price.

All along, the Coop has maintained that the ISBNs are its intellectual property. But the director of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, along with another Berkman Fellow and a Harvard law student, beg to differ: "The Coop neither authored the ISBN numbers on its books nor compiled them in an original selection or arrangement," the trio writes. "Locking competitors out from price comparison is not part of copyright's aim. While some courts have protected the creativity of price estimates, they haven't allowed companies to exclude others from learning market prices or catalog part numbers."

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