By: Andrew Knauff
Publication: The Marcolian(Student Newspaper)
Belltower Books, which has served as an alternative to the bookstore for textbook buyback, is bringing legal trouble to Marietta College.
Belltower was founded by two Cornell graduates in 2004 and has been employing college students to buy students’ used textbooks at rates comparable to their local bookstore, and thus at a higher convenience.
Belltower employees are trained, given a barcode scanner, and then provided a bank account of approximately $4,000 to buy textbooks before sending them off to Belltower headquarters. The student employees promote themselves across campus and travel to individuals’ rooms to buy their used books.
A student worker could quickly make large amounts of money and steal business from the bookstore at the same time. However, there is a catch: what they’re doing isn’t strictly legal, at least according to the college – a situation junior Jake Hammer has had the experience of finding out first hand.
Hammer began working for Belltower the spring of his sophomore year. After some of his textbooks were reported stolen, Hammer’s books were seized and he was told to never sell again. According to Hammer, Tom Saccenti, the chief of college police, spoke to a Belltower representative and told them not to come back to Marietta the following year.
“I knew that campus police didn’t want me to do it, but when I talked to Belltower they said it was okay,” Hammer said. “They said, ‘We have lawyers to deal with issues like this, and you’re not a business because you don’t set up a table, so you can’t be held accountable the same way a business can.’”
Hammer hesitantly continued to buy books for Belltower this past fall.
“I didn’t advertise around campus and I tried to keep everything online,” he said.
Hammer’s low-key presence may have paid off if he had ben the only Belltower employee on campus, but other employees weren’t as sly. As campus police realized Belltower was back on campus, they naturally went to Hammer’s room.
“I was in my room tagging books before sending them off to Belltower when there was a knock on my door,” said Hammer. “Thinking it was one of my friends, I just said, ‘come in’. I looked up and saw my resident director and two campus police officers.”
All of Hammer’s books and his phone were seized as evidence. The search took place Dec. 13, and Hammer’s cell phone still hasn’t been returned.
“There are two issues at play here,” Saccenti said. “There is an exclusivity clause. This is private property and we have a contract with the bookstore that says we will not allow any book buyback company on our property. The second is to make sure the Ohio Revised Code is followed. That goes very specifically into purchasing used items. Books are easily stolen and sold, and the Ohio Revised Code has laid out specific details about how to go about purchasing items.”
Belltower’s business practices put them into a legal grey area at the get-go. They don’t require a photo ID when buying used property. Because of this they are vulnerable to buying and owning stolen property, which is illegal.
A pawn shop runs a similar model, but they require a photo ID when making a purchase. This helps alleviate their legal concerns as they are more able to track their purchases back to the person who may have actually stolen the property.
Because this is a state law rather than a campus policy, Hammer faces potential charges from the city of Marietta. According to Hammer, he could face a fourth-degree misdemeanor and a fine. The case has been pending for nearly two months now, so there is a chance it could be dismissed before any charges are filed.
Regardless of the final consequences of the case, students should think twice before working for a book buyback company.
“It’s just been a big headache and a frustrating experience,” said Hammer. “I don’t expect to see Belltower on campus anymore.”