When Tristan Lear was confronted with what he called outrageous textbook prices and a dwindling used textbook market, he decided to abandon the textbook publishing industry all together.
Setting up a table outside of the USF Barnes and Noble Bookstore on Monday morning, Lear, a junior majoring in psychology, asked other students to do the same, until he said some USF officials tried to “silence (his) free speech” when they asked him to leave because he did not have permission to be there.
Armed with a laptop and a smartphone for Wi-Fi, Lear offered students information and resources on where they could pirate digital copies of textbooks online.
He first got the idea for the project a few semesters ago when he helped some of his classmates save money on a textbook by giving them a link where they could download the book for free.
“Everyone knows it’s open information that these textbook companies are using and that they are screwing us,” Lear said. “I know so many students that have opted not to buy their overly expensive textbook knowing full well it would make it harder for them to get a good grade that semester.
“There was a discussion on the first day of class and students were complaining that the book was expensive and that the bookstore was out of stock,” he said. “I finally just raised my hand and said ‘I’ve got a PDF if anyone want’s it.’ The whole class ended up giving me their email (addresses) after class so I could get them the location of the book.”
Once Lear had the website pulled up on his personal laptop, he provided students with a pen and a notecard to write down the link.
“Under the Digital Copyright Millenium Act, sharing a link on a website makes you partially responsible for the copyright infringement, even if you’re not hosting it,” Lear said. “What I’m doing involves sharing links personally in the real world or teaching people how to find them. If that were to be ruled as copyright violation that would be ridiculous case law because it would imply that simply talking about file sharing is against the law.”
But by the afternoon, word of Lear’s project had spread and some weren’t happy about the way he was going about it.
Around 2 p.m. Nick Fagnoni, the USF Bookstore Manager, as well as Sujit Chemburkar, director of the Marshall Student Center, approached Lear about his table.
According to an audio recording taken by Lear, Chemburkar told Lear his display may be in violation of Barnes and Noble’s contract with USF and told him he didn’t have the proper approval necessary to have a table in that area.
Fagnoni and Chemburkar agreed to let Lear stay for the day pending a review of the contract by officials at the university’s Auxilliary Services.
Around 4 p.m. Lear was approached again by Ahad Diba, a representative from Auxiliary Services. In a video Lear posted to YouTube, Diba asked Lear to disassemble the table saying it was in violation of USF’s contract with Barnes and Noble, which prohibits third party vendors from marketing their products in the area.
“You can give information. I can not forbid that,” Adiba said. “But it’s against our contract with Barnes and Noble that no marketing be done by another entity on campus, such as this here.”
Lear then asked Adiba if his project would be OK as long as he removed the table and Adiba said it would.
“That’s an exchange of information. That’s OK,” Adiba said. “But this presents an official marketing by you. This violates our contract with Barnes and Noble.”
After his interaction with Adiba, Lear decided to comply and remove his table display from in front of the bookstore.
In an email to The Oracle on Tuesday morning, USF Media and Public Affairs Coordinator Adam Freeman, who said he had heard the audio recording and seen the video, said after reviewing the bookstore’s contract, the university determined that “there was no conflict with the agreement.”
Freeman said the issue was not with a conflict in the contract, but rather with Lear not obtaining the necessary approval to table outside the Marshall Student Center.
“Had the individual followed the proper procedure, our staff would have been able to review the bookstore agreement in advance and verified there’s no conflict,” Freeman said.
Lear said the fact that the university cited a rule to get him to remove his display and then said he wasn’t in violation only after he was gone seemed “shady.”
“I don’t think I was in anyone’s way. I don’t think I was causing a problem for anyone other than Barnes and Noble, so they used a rule that they pulled out of their pocket to prevent me from drawing attention to the problem,” he said. “It does seem very anti-free speech.”
Lear plans to return to campus on Friday, without a table to distribute more information to students. Lear said he was told no permit would be needed to distribute information if he did not bring a table.
“Some people have suggested I use a shopping cart, which I’m considering,” Lear said. “But this is definitely not the end.”