While attending college, I spent a few years working at a used-textbook store. The majority of the books we sold were purchased from students, individuals, and used-book wholesalers. Sometimes, when putting books out on the shelves, I would encounter books with phrases like “Instructor’s Copy” or “Sample Copy—Not for Resale” printed on the covers. When I asked my boss about these books, he told me that they were free copies given out to instructors, but it was perfectly legal for us to sell the books because we had purchased them from another person. This made sense to me and satisfied my curiosity. Later in the day, my boss showed me a pile of these sample-copy books and said that we should take colored tape and cover up the areas that contained the phrases such as “Sample Copy.” When I asked why we did this, he told me that, although we were legally able to sell the books, the phrases sometimes discouraged customers from buying these copies even though the content was identical to the standard copies. I then asked how we got these books if they were instructor copies and were not supposed to be resold. I was told that the publishing companies sent free copies of books to professors to let them read and evaluate them in the hope that they would order the book as material for their classes. We got some of these books when professors sold their sample copies to us or a used-book wholesaler, but the majority came from individuals who went around college campuses (calling themselves book-buyers) buying these books from professors and then selling them to a used-book store or a used-book wholesaler. My boss also stated that, because the content inside was the same, we really did not care if they were the standard copy or a sample copy and, therefore, we bought and sold these books for the same prices as the standard copies.
1. Is it a socially responsible (legal? ethical?) practice for a bookstore to purchase and then resell these books that were given out as free copies?
2. Is it an ethical practice for the bookstore to conceal the fact that these books are, indeed, instructor’s or sample copies?
3. Is it an ethical practice for book-buyers to roam the halls of college campuses and buy these free books from professors who no longer want them?
4. Is it an ethical practice for professors to sell books that were sent to them as free sample copies?