Two educational firms have sued a Lexington man in federal court, alleging that he stole textbooks they published and then illegally resold them using aliases, stolen credit cards, anonymous online storefronts and unnamed accomplices.
Cengage Learning Inc. and Pearson Education Inc. filed the lawsuit Monday in Lexington against Heath Hershey, who is identified as working in textbook arbitrage, buying textbooks at low prices and then selling them to distributors and consumers.
Contacted Friday, Hershey said, "I have not been notified of anything. What you're telling me is more than I know.
"Nobody's talked to me. Nobody's said, 'Mr. Hershey, you're being sued," he said. "So until I know what's going on, there's nothing I can really say."
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The plaintiffs allege that Hershey infringed on their copyrights over a number of years by, among other things, "deliberately purchasing, manufacturing, importing, distributing and reselling" pirated copies of their textbooks without their permission.
Their suit alleges violations of federal trademark and copyright laws, and violations of Kentucky conversion laws.
Cengage and Pearson are seeking damages under federal law; an accounting and disgorgement of profits Hershey gained through the alleged activity; and an order requiring Hershey to turn over all products, packaging, advertising and other materials bearing imitations or reproductions of the plaintiffs' copyrighted materials.
The suit also seeks a federal court order enjoining Hershey from any further trademark infringement.
Connecticut-based Cengage Learning is one of the world's largest "learning solutions" providers, serving students, teachers and learning institutions, according to the lawsuit. Pearson is an internationally known publisher of education books and materials.
The summons for Hershey was issued Monday, according to court records.
According to the lawsuit, Hershey is or was employed by eCampus.com, an online textbook distributor that was launched by former Kentucky governor Wallace G. Wilkinson in 1999. Wilkinson died in 2002 after going bankrupt.
Hershey also sells textbooks under his own name and various company names, including Extreme Textbooks and Textbook Liquidators, the suit says.
The plaintiffs allege that Hershey buys counterfeit copies of textbooks at below-market prices — some from overseas suppliers — then sells them "as though they are legitimate."
In addition, the plaintiffs claim, Hershey has "been actively involved in a scheme to steal books from Pearson using stolen credit cards." After receiving the books, Hershey allegedly "resold or otherwise unlawfully distributed" them, the suit alleges.
It also charges that for the past several years, Hershey distributed counterfeit copies of various books that the plaintiffs produced.
It claims that these "pirated" books carried the plaintiffs' own official trademarks and service marks in violation of the Lanham Act, the main federal trademark-protection law.
The plaintiffs claim that the pirated books are inferior to the original textbooks in terms of the quality of binding, paper and printing.
They allege that their business reputation has been injured because buyers are likely to think that the pirated books are the plaintiffs' own authentic publications.