Used eBook Sellers Receive Threats of Jail Time

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People selling unwanted eBooks online have been warned that their activities could result in six months imprisonment. However, anti-piracy group BREIN, the alleged sender of the threats, says it is not responsible. Nevertheless, given a legal case to be heard next week, the timing is certainly curious.

e-booksWhen one legitimately acquires property, whether a car, a house or even a toy plane, it’s generally accepted that the item can be transferred, for money, to an interested third party.

In the digital domain, however, there are those who feel that things should be different.

For example, IFPI believes that people should not be able to sell their unwanted MP3s, because unlike physical media they don’t deteriorate in quality or require a trip to the record store.

And in 2014, the MPAA argued that allowing people to sell their used videos online would kill innovation, increase consumer prices, and decrease the availability of online film.

With this kind of opposition in mind it was no surprise that yesterday several media outlets began reporting that sellers of used eBooks in the Netherlands had received legal threats from aggressive copyright holders.

In an email titled “Illegal dissemination of digital books”, sellers of pre-owned eBooks were warned, apparently by Dutch anti-piracy outfit BREIN, that their activities were illegal.

“The Brein Foundation acts against piracy of music, film, interactive software and digital books on behalf of rights and stakeholders such as authors, performers, publishers, producers and distributors,” the email begins.

“We’ve detected that you are distributing digital books without permission being granted by the copyright holders. This practice is unlawful towards the rights-holders and if you infringe you are liable for the damage they suffer as a result.”

Worryingly the email then goes off at the deep end, warning of extreme punishments if the sale of used eBooks continues.

“Intentional infringement is punishable as a criminal offense with 6 months imprisonment or a 19,500 euro ($21,200) fine.”

The email signs off in the name of Jan van Voorn, BREIN’s legal counsel, adding an air of authenticity to the claims. However, according to BREIN chief Tim Kuik the emails are nothing to do with his organization.

“We are concerned,” Kuik told “Someone is stirring up weird stuff.”

While BREIN are hardly supporters of people selling used product, the anti-piracy group says it only usually targets those attempting to sell large quantities of illegitimate products online. Indeed, after striking a deal with publishers in 2010, BREIN is now actively chasing down book pirates using Google’s services.

So who then is to blame for the threats? According to Kuik it’s possible that rival used-book sellers are trying to scare away their competitors.

While that does indeed sound plausible, whoever is sending these threats clearly has an understanding of the market, BREIN’s involvement in copyright enforcement, and how to construct a credible threat. Furthermore, the Dutch publishing group that BREIN represents also wishes to ban the sale of used eBooks.

Overall then, the timing of these ‘legal’ threats are coincidental if not curious.

Next week an important case involving the sale of used eBooks via local online marketplace ‘Tom Cabinet’ will head back to court in the Netherlands. Last year the Amsterdam Court dismissed complaints from book publishers, concluding that selling used eBooks sits in a legal gray area.

This time around the publishers will be looking for a more favorable result.


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