But this week saw the extraordinary case of a Belfast bookseller being taken to court by a disgruntled customer – over a small number of errors in a book he sold her. Former Queen’s University finance student Grainne McElroy was so aggrieved at the mistakes she found in the £46 (€69) academic textbook that she attempted to sue David Torrans, who owns No Alibis bookshop. After a 20-minute hearing in Enniskillen Crown Court on Tuesday morning, the case was dismissed by the judge.
I think they are missing the point. The story as reported is standard litigious-culture-bashing, backed up with some seeming concern for the hardship faced by small booksellers. But why should book readers put up with low standards? It’s not as if the student was disagreeing with the content or the arguments. A skipping CD or a supposedly all-red carpet that had bits of black scattered around it is a mechanical problem, and can easily be a case of not-fit-for-purpose given appropriate circumstances.
Typos, especially in a scientific or mathematical textbook, can of course make the book something less than advertised. While the occasional grocer’s apos’trophe is hardly worth causing a legal stink over (despite the clear sinfulness of such errors), that does not mean that the booklover (book reader, book purchaser, etc) must accept all errors.
Yes, there may be a problem with going after the poor little shop (why is this relevant?) instead of the publisher (presumably sufficiently large as to be an acceptable defendant!). But it seems that these cases (and the media coverage that results from them) should turn on factors such as the interpretation of the relevant statutes (such as the Sale of Goods Acts), rather than yet more scaremongering about how the lawyers are taking over the world. I am not advocating LA-style lawyers on every corner, but dragging consumer protection law into disrepute by mocking what seems a very sensible exercising of accepted, reasonable legal principles is unfair.
In a week where we are likely to see the long-awaited Consumer Protection Bill, the unsuccessful case of Ms. McElroy, who apparently:
despite her difficulties with the book, […]subsequently graduated with a first class honours degree
(says the Times, with a smirk)
reminds all consumers to be vigilant and assertive in the exercise of their rights – whether to read or otherwise!
Incidentally someone (either the interviewee or at Irish Times) is guilty of yes, an error here:
Editorial consultant Dermott Barrett is equally incredulous: “For someone to instigate legislation – that’s really extreme,” he says.
That would be litigation, Sir (or sub-editor). And what is an ‘editorial consultant’ anyway?