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Background:

I own copies of several fairly expensive paper books published by O'Reilly Media. One of my primary reasons for buying these books instead of alternatives from competing publishers, was that inside the book, the following offer is advertised:*

Get even more for your money

Join the O'Reilly Community, and register the O'Reilly books you own. It's free, and you'll get:

  • $4.99 ebook upgrade offer
  • 40% upgrade offer on O'Reilly print books
  • Membership discounts on books and events
  • Free lifetime updates to ebooks and videos
  • Multiple ebook formats, DRM FREE
  • Participation in the O'Reilly community
  • Newsletters
  • Account management
  • 100% Satisfaction Guarantee

Signing up is easy:

  1. Go to: oreilly.com/go/register
  2. Create an O'Reilly login.
  3. Provide your address.
  4. Register your books.

Note: English-language books only

(An image of the same page, as it appeared in a different O'Reilly book from 2015, is shown below.)

This gave me to understand that by buying the books, I was also buying the right to redeem this offer.

I attempted, a few days ago, to take advantage of the "$4.99 ebook upgrade offer" for a couple of O'Reilly books of which I have paper copies. I have performed the steps above, except for the last one, because I could not find any option to register the books. Because of this difficulty, I contacted O'Reilly, who said, to my considerable surprise:

Thanks for reaching out. We've recently discontinued the "Register Print Books" feature on the website, as well as the "$4.99 Ebook upgrade" deal tied with it. This feature was disabled because we've shuttered our online store and are no longer offering the direct sale of ebooks or print books.

To me, this seems unacceptable, because:

  • the offer has no expiry date; and
  • O'Reilly appears to be a "going concern", so is presumably obliged to fulfil the written offers it has made to its customers; and
  • books advertising the offer are still being widely sold in bookstores (new, not second-hand), so even today, customers could still be buying books on the basis of the offer.

My question:

Under English or US law, and given the above facts, is O'Reilly engaging in false advertising?

Update: Image of a page showing the offer:

Screenshot of offer, as shown on p.435 of *The New Relational Database Dictionary*

* This wording is taken from an O'Reilly book published in 2015. Books from other years might have marginally different wording, but for all the books I have checked so far, the offer was essentially the same.

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    Are you sure there's no statement or reference to terms of the offer in the books? Something like "for more information go to www.somewebsite.com.org.tv". – Nij Jan 13 '18 at 2:21
  • @Nij, thanks :) The offer, as transcribed above, occupies a box covering most of a page, near the back of the book, and seems to stand alone. – sampablokuper Jan 13 '18 at 2:36
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    Outside the box, and also on other pages of the book, there are various email addresses & URLs for other aspects of O'Reilly's business, but none of these are presented as being sources of additional information about the terms of the advertised offer. These other blocks say things like, To order books online: oreilly.com/store and For questions about products or an order: orders@oreilly.com and To submit new book proposals to our editors: proposals@oreilly.com and O'Reilly books are available in multiple DRM-free ebook formats. For more information: oreilly.com/ebooks. – sampablokuper Jan 13 '18 at 2:40
  • @Nij, have now added an image of the page showing the offer. – sampablokuper Jan 13 '18 at 3:46
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No (in almost all U.S. jurisdictions).

Truth or falsity is evaluated when a statement is originally made and doesn't have to remain true forever.

Also, generally the law treats an ad like that as an invitation for you to make any offer to them, not a binding offer to form a contract that is held open indefinitely. So you can't force them into a contract simply by accepting their offer. The default rule is that an ad is an invitation to make an offer rather than an offer that can be accepted. And, even if it really is an offer, when it does not state any termination date, the default rule is that it can be withdrawn at any time.

  • I am surprised by your answer. In the UK, at least, limited-time offers generally (have to?) describe themselves as such. Also, my purchases were made on the understanding that, in the absence of any indication to the contrary at the time of purchase, the offer would be good for at least as long as O'Reilly remains a going concern. Surely the unilateral withdrawal of the offer, after I had made those purchases in good faith, means that the advert was misleading under consumer law? – sampablokuper Jan 13 '18 at 2:55
  • I can't speak to modern English law (Americans are only taught how it was through the 1700s), but this would be the nearly universal common law rule in the US. The UK does now vary a lot of common law rules in the consumer protection area by statute in a way that U.S. states with a race to the bottom mentality do not. – ohwilleke Jan 13 '18 at 2:57
  • The advert is worded in such a way as to suggest that by buying the books, I was also buying the right to redeem that offer. Certainly, that was my understanding, and the basis of my purchases. – sampablokuper Jan 13 '18 at 3:00
  • I take your point about jurisdictions varying in consumer protections. These books were purchased in England, but O'Reilly is based in California. I assume English law would apply to my purchase? Presumably many other O'Reilly customers are similarly inconvenienced. Would a suitable class action (if anyone chose to file one) have to occur in California? – sampablokuper Jan 13 '18 at 3:02
  • The legal question is not your subjective expectation but what the law authorizes you to expect objectively. Lots of people have inaccurate expectations on all sorts of legal matters. – ohwilleke Jan 13 '18 at 3:03

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