For as much fun as college can be, one of the least pleasant aspects of attending university is purchasing textbooks. As a student, you have the distinct privilege of paying hundreds of dollars for books that you'll only use for a brief period, *cough* if at all *cough*. And while yours truly was unlucky enough to attend college during the nascence of eCommerce, today's students have a litany of options when it comes to ordering books online and finding the best price. But one startup's price-comparison tool has a major textbook company threatening legal action.
The textbook giant Follett Higher Education Group has threatened to take action against Texts.com over a software tool the company developed. The tool, called OccupyTheBookstore, is a Google Chrome extension that pops up when the user is visiting a bookstore website and displays competitor's prices for textbooks. Unsurprisingly, Follett was less than pleased about the app, and threatened Texts.com with legal action should the tool continue to run on sites Follett is in partnership with.
In an Ask Me Anything (AMA) with Reddit, Texts.com founders Peter Frank and Ben Halpern shed some light on the issue, pointing out their product doesn't interact with the bookstore website server, but rather the end-user's browser. They also note their app doesn't alter anything on the bookstore websites or prohibit any functionality. Users are also opting-in by downloading and enabling the extension, which further hinders any claim Follett might make regarding copyright violation.
If anything, Follett's attempt to shut down OccupyTheBookstore has bolstered the fledgling tool. Since participating in the Reddit AMA, OccupyTheBookstore has gone from a scant 200 downloads to over 15,000 (16,377 as of this writing.) Frank and Halpern also stated that as a result of their AMA, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reached out to them. And though they weren't specific as to the nature of the email from the EFF, it seems a logical assumption (given the nature of the organization) that the group may offer its support to their cause. Given the tenuous claim that Follett has regarding infringement, it is unclear whether the company will choose to pursue further action, or simply concede the matter.
Whatever your venture is, it's always a best practice to make sure that your product isn't infringing upon the work of others. There's no better defense than doing everything by the book.
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