Market Watch posted a story yesterday about a Supreme Court case that will come up during this term of the Supreme Court. Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons deals with the first-sale doctrine in copyright law, which allows you to buy and then sell things like electronics, books, artwork and furniture, as well as CDs and DVDs, without getting permission from the copyright holder of those products.
The article explains that because the copyright holder was paid when the article sold the first time, after sales are not covered. However, that idea is being challenged for items made abroad.
The article reports:
That’s being challenged now for products that are made abroad, and if the Supreme Court upholds an appellate court ruling, it would mean that the copyright holders of anything you own that has been made in China, Japan or Europe, for example, would have to give you permission to sell it.
“It means that it’s harder for consumers to buy used products and harder for them to sell them,” said Jonathan Band, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries and the Association for Research Libraries. “This has huge consumer impact on all consumer groups.”
Another likely result is that it would hit you financially because the copyright holder would now want a piece of that sale.
The article explains the basis for the case:
The case stems from Supap Kirtsaeng’s college experience. A native of Thailand, Kirtsaeng came to America in 1997 to study at Cornell University. When he discovered that his textbooks, produced by Wiley, were substantially cheaper to buy in Thailand than they were in Ithaca, N.Y., he rallied his Thai relatives to buy the books and ship them to him in the United States.
He then sold them on eBay, making upward of $1.2 million, according to court documents.
Wiley, which admitted that it charged less for books sold abroad than it did in the United States, sued him for copyright infringement. Kirtsaeng countered with the first-sale doctrine.
There can be hazards in doing business in a world-wide market.
The article reminds us that if the court rules that the first-sale principle does not apply to products made oversees, many businesses in the United States would be adversely impacted. Many parts of American cars are made overseas. Does that mean that when you sell your used car, you need permission from a Japanese parts company?
It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court rules on this. Frankly, I think Supap Kirtsaeng should get an award for entrepreneurial excellence!