Resale of Books and Copyright Law being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court

Originally posted 2018-11-19 11:20:12

On Monday October 29, 2012, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments of a copyright infringement case dealing with whether or not copyrighted goods made outside the United States can be resold in the U.S. without first attaining permission from the copyright holder. The case has garnered the attention of such companies as eBay and Google, who have stated that a person should have the right to sell an item that they have purchased regardless of where it was made.

Publisher John Wiley & Songs sued Supap Kirtsaeng, a college student from Thailand, for re-selling copyrighted textbooks on eBay. He had his family members in Thailand purchase copies of textbooks that were very similar to the ones made in the U.S., but were cheaper than those sold in the U.S. The student then launched a small business and re-sold these textbooks.

Wiley’s lawyer argued that the phrase, “lawfully made,” found in copyright law, pertains to “lawfully made under the copyright laws of theUnited States.”  This means that Kirtsaeng should have asked Wiley’s permission before selling the copyrighted textbooks.

The Motion Picture Association of America and Recording Industry Association of America are supporting  Wiley’s argument and have filed a brief that stated concerns about second-hand shops or libraries being negatively impacted were overblown since there was very little evidence backs up their claims.

Kirstaeng’s lawyer argued that this interpretation of copyright law would grant too much power to copyright holders. Justice Stephen Breyer seemed to agree, stating that it would hinder people from re-selling their Toyota cars in the U.S., for example, because they are not manufactured in the U.S.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, however, seemed to side more with Wiley, stating that Kirstaeng’s reading basically stated that “once a copy is sold anywhere, the copyright owner loses control of distribution everywhere.”

 The case is expected to be decided sometime next year.


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