Paper Rights Management

Springer delivery note
Springer delivery note

This delivery note from Springer informs me that the book I’ve bought “must not be resold”. Good luck with that. So have I bought it or not? Or have I bought a licence to read it? What if I give it away?

Many companies would love to be able to control what users can do with things they buy, or with information after someone’s learned it. We know that, and we know that, fundamentally, it’s not going to work. You can try and shape behaviour, to guide users into helping themselves, but nonsense such “end-user licence agreements” for books has no mechanism of enforcement, and offers no benefit to the reader if he/she obeys it anyway.

How valid, legally, are any of these “post-purchase conditions”, anyway? Surely the first-sale doctrine or its equivalents allow users to re-sell items they buy with impunity?


  1. You have bought a book.
    You own the book.
    You can sell the book (or give it away).
    You can even lend the book.

    Copyright simply says you can’t copy it (nor probably a few other things such as read it aloud in public).

    Of course, copyright legislation is being added to all the time and varies according to jurisdiction. So, you may not actually be able to lend the book. You may even need to pay a royalty out of the profits from sale of the book.

    Copyright licenses are not contracts – unless/until you decide you’d like to consummate them as such. You can ignore licenses or observe them – it’s up to you. You cannot be forced to agree to a license as contract even by dint of an action only permitted by the license – copyright infringement is always available to you as an option.

    Of course, it is possible you have signed a rental agreement in order to obtain the book, which is thus not your property – despite having paid a deposit in lieu of being unable to return the renter’s property.

    Obviously rental contracts cannot be disguised as sales.

    So, a delivery note is not a contract, nor even if it contains specific instruction from the copyright holder can it constrain you differently from copyright. Copyright does not grant holders with legislative power. Copyright holders can only restore liberties otherwise suspended by copyright (possibly restricting those liberties to tightly defined limits and circumstances).

    However, if the limitation on resale was also written on the invoice, then possibly it could be regarded as a contractual term of the sale. I’d then argue this constitutes a misrepresentation of what should have been a simple retail purchase. But it’s ambiguous enough that you’d need expensive lawyers if Springer sued you – not that they’d be that nasty of course.

  2. Moz

    I’d say your first point of contact would be your consumer protection people. In NZ and Oz there are reasonable restrictions on what retailers can and can’t do, one of which is the post-sale contract (except for software, which gets a special exemption).

    In person it’s easy enough to return unwanted paperwork and say “I don’t want to buy this”. Some staff will refuse the sale but in my experience it’s quite uncommon. I do that because here at least it means I’m covered by the legislation rather than any contract of sale the retailer may try to impose.

    But watch the various “members” schemes – those can be a way to implement the restrictions that you’re concerned about, because in order to get the members’ benefits you’re trading something… often your protection under the law. As one example, we have “flybuys” which are like credit card points but without the credit card, and what you’re selling is your privacy – the whole point of the scheme is that they sell your purchase history (and you’re breaking the T&C if you anonymise the info in any way – by lying on your application or letting someone else use your card, for instance)

  3. Publishers often have very different pricing and tax schemes for retail vs. wholesale sales. It is odd to see a restriction like this on a retail sale. Usually, the wholesaler gets a much better price and must prove that the book is, indeed, for resale.

    I have never seen a statement to the effect of *not* being able to resell a book except when free review copies are sent out to the press. This statement really puzzles me, after many years in the publishing business. Hmm.

  4. Dan

    Thanks everyone for the very insightful comments: I guess I’m perhaps not as indignant as it might have come across in the post, primarily because – as Crosbie says – I haven’t agreed to any such restriction, regardless of what the delivery note might say.

    On further recollection, I’m thinking the attempted imposition of the extra condition might be due to some small discount that was offered by Springer (a discount code) on the purchase, due to my being a co-author of one of the papers in the book. But I don’t recall accepting any extra conditions in return for the discount: I simply pasted the discount code into a field on the order form. And there’s no mention of the discount or anything like that on the delivery note.

  5. Springer might then argue that the ‘discount code’ triggered the delivery of a proof/review copy on indefinite loan for which you were required to pay a cautionary deposit or postage – details of which can be found in their extensive terms and conditions.

    They may suggest you accepted these terms and conditions when you signed the publishing contract.

    They would no doubt apologise for shoehorning the despatch of proof/review copies via their eBookshop and the misleading nature of ‘discount’ codes, but they are trying to keep authors’ costs down…

  6. Moz writes:

    I’d say your first point of contact would be your consumer protection people. In NZ and Oz there are reasonable restrictions on what retailers can and can’t do, one of which is the post-sale contract (except for software, which gets a special exemption).

    Why does software get a special exemption? I see no justification for such an exemption.

  7. Liam

    Maybe “this item” that cannot be resold is infact refering to the delivery note not the book as the delivery note is not part of the book purchased and infact a unique piece of company headed paper with an ink design provided for your own personal use. By your images the message it seems the text is printed on the note unless a similar message is stamped on the book I see no problem unless you plan to resell the delivery note or perhaps recycle it for profit.

    As an aside several dockets, bank statements etc have “retain for personal use or dispose of carefully.” I believe its to advoid sensitive personal information reaching third parties.

  8. Liam

    Also there is a gap between the description of the product and the note. In addition the sentence breaks line boundries of the columns which makes me think it doesn’t refer to the book but to the docket itself.

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