University Officials Look Into Textbook Price Site





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UC Berkeley officials are investigating possible trademark violations concerning a student-initiated textbook price comparison Web site, said an ASUC representative.

The Office of Marketing and Management Trademarks is looking into the Web site because it inaccurately reported textbook prices at the Cal Student Store. It also allegedly infringed on the "Cal" trademark and sent a mass e-mail advertisement to thousands of students.

Kentex Ho, a junior electrical engineering and computer science major, established the Web site with four friends just before classes began for the spring 2000 semester.

Ho said the site was meant to assist UC Berkeley students by comparing Cal Student Store textbook prices to those of online competitors.

The site often listed the Cal Student Store price as the

highest, but much of this information was incorrect, said Tom Cordi, ASUC auxiliary director.

"We've documented at least 150 to 200 cases where (the Cal Student Store price) is not accurate," he said. "There was a range of 11.5 to 100 percent of overpriced listings. And that is a real problem because that misrepresents the Cal Student Store and turns people toward other stores in the city and dot-com places."

The student store's prices are changed nearly every day in accordance with the prices at Ned's and Campus Textbook Exchange, possibly leading to the inaccurate listings on the Web site, calbook.com, Cordi said.

"The pricing of a book is a dynamic process and it is a function of the market," he said. "The problem with calbook is that it's just taking a snapshot in time. (The inaccurate listing) is probably a snapshot of sometime in December."

A second complaint about the Web site is its use of the name "Cal," which is a registered university trademark.

"Whoever calbook is they should have gotten permission from the university to use the title ‘calbook,'" Cordi said. "It's extremely deceptive because it almost sounds like they are an official (University of) California service. They have to pay (for those rights)."

University officials are also concerned with a mass e-mail publicizing the calbook.com Web site which was sent out to a large number of students last month.

The university is not allowed to release a complete list of student e-mails to anyone, and even the ASUC does not have a student mailing list, Cordi said.

"The Cal Student Store is not allowed to (send mass e-mails) and not allowed to do that for commercial purposes," he said. "Although the calbook is not selling books, they are pushing certain companies."

Ho said he does not currently make a profit from the Web site but was considering selling advertising space in the future.

Ho added that he obtained the addresses from UC Berkeley's online campus directory, and that he adhered to state policy regarding commercial mass e-mails.

"I believe I did it in accordance with California law," he said. "I hate (mass junk e-mail) too, so it's generally not a good idea to do that."

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