Court Limits Sales on eBay

A Frankfurt court has decided that it will enforce a German law allowing publishers to fix the prices of their books. An entrepreneurial journalist who had sold about 40 review copies of a book on the online auction site, eBay, was in violation of the law, the court said. There was some legal debate over whether European Union free-trade regulation made the law invalid, but the German book industry argued successfully that books are cultural products that are exempted from such regulations. The decision is being hailed by small German retailers and the publishing industry more generally. "Fixed book prices are indispensable for the literature market," said the director of the German Cultural Council. "Without them, publishing houses could not invest in literary works whose sales are limited. Fixed book prices ensure literary variety." – YaleGlobal

Court Limits Sales on eBay

Ruling protects book-pricing system
Kristina Merkner
Friday, June 18, 2004

On Ebay, you can sell just about anything to anyone who is willing to shell out the purchase price, no matter how low or how high it may be. But this rule of the virtual shopping world no longer applies in Germany, at least not on books.

A restriction was enacted on Tuesday by a Frankfurt court. The ruling strengthened a provision in German law that allows publishers to fix the prices of their books.

The case was filed by a bookstore owner in the central German city of Darmstadt. The retailer was seeking to stop a journalist from selling review copies of books, which he had received for free, below their fixed prices. Within six weeks, the journalist used Ebay to sell more than 40 new books, some of which were still in wrappers.

The court's decision made clear that even private sellers have to stick to the fixed book price if they regularly sell new books.

Publishers' and cultural organizations welcomed the decision. The chairman of the association for the German book trade, Dieter Schormann, called the ruling "a good and important day for the German book trade." The German Cultural Council said it saw the ruling as another triumph in the quest to maintain fixed book prices in Germany. In 2002, fixed book prices were challenged on the grounds that they infringed upon EU competition law, but publishers successfully defended their right to set prices.

Books have been granted an exemption from free-market pricing because they are considered to be an important cultural good. The system was introduced in an effort to ensure the survival of small retailers and guarantee that books are readily available throughout the country.

"Fixed book prices are indispensable for the literature market," said Olaf Zimmermann, the council's managing director. "Without them, publishing houses could not invest in literary works whose sales are limited. Fixed book prices ensure literary variety."

Jun. 18, 2004

© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2000

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