Harvard Bookstore: "We Own ISBN Numbers"

The Harvard Crimson ran a story last week about a student who was asked to leave the premises for writing down the prices of six textbooks at the Coop, Harvard’s bookstore of record. The bookstore’s president says that there’s no official policy against students writing down information, but “we discourage people who are taking down a lot of notes.” But what’s more surprising, he tells the Crimson that the textbooks’ ISBNs—which can be used to look up the same books online—are “the Coop’s intellectual property.”

The Crimson speculates that the Coop may be reacting this way because of Crimsonreading.org, an online database that lets students search for the lowest prices by using ISBN. Harvard’s Undergraduate Council President says he’s spoken with an intellectual property lawyer and confirms that the ISBN-ownership claim is hogwash.

We understand taking severe measures to protect your business against cost-cutting competitors—especially when they have a business model that potentially gives them the upper hand against your traditional brick-and-mortar establishment. But we think it’s pretty hilarious to invent copyright law. And we wonder, do they own the ISBNs of all books, or just the ones in their inventory? Does the publisher have any ISBN ownership rights? Maybe we should create some sort of international, standardized book numbering system so we can replace this proprietary one.

Anyway, so yeah, don’t use ISBNs without writing to the Coop first and asking for permission.

“Coop Discourages Notetaking in Bookstore” [The Harvard Crimson, submitted by Joe—thanks, Joe!)