Law Profs Revolt after Aspen Casebook Tries to Get Around First Sale Doctrine
"On May 5, a number of law professors around the country received an email from publisher Wolters Kluwer regarding the 11 books in the Aspen Casebook series they assign to their students. The email informed the educators that the casebook, which combines lessons about the legal system with documents from cases in which those principles were applied or set, would now be sold as a physical copy bundled with an ebook edition. There was just one catch: once the course was over, students would be required to ship their physical copies back to the publisher, rather than hanging onto them for reference or reselling them on the used book market. The policy didn’t sit well with many of the professors who use the Aspen Casebook in their courses. The idea violates the first sale doctrine, long applied to books and other physical media, which prohibits publishers or other rights holders from placing restrictions on the transfer of legally obtained, copyrighted objects after those works have been sold to a consumer. If a consumer has purchased a copy of a work, they are free to resell it as they wish. While a debate continues to rage about whether first sale does, should, or could apply to digital works, which are usually licensed rather than sold, the Supreme Court upheld its application to print textbooks as recently as last year. Josh Blackman, an assistant professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston who wrote about the situation on his blog, said the new policy seemed closer to the Amazon and Apple model of licensing content for use by consumers, rather than actually selling it to them outright. 'Journal publishers are trying to find ways to make more profit,' Blackman told LJ. 'And one of the ways they can do it is by transitioning from people owning books to people licensing books.' The shift in policy, which Blackman said took him and other professors completely by surprise, resulted in a backlash against the publisher, with hundreds of professors and students signing on to a petition begun by University of Maryland law professor James Grimmelmann. (Grimmelmann may be best known to readers as a commentator on the Authors Guild’s long running court cases against Google Books and the HathiTrust.) Within days, Wolters Kluwer had reversed course—to a degree ..."