Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Libraries, Museums, Ebay, Used Book Stores Saved by U.S. Supreme Court

In a technical but important issue of copyright law, the United States Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision held that re-selling text books on Ebay was not a violation of the publisher's copyright.

The much anticipated decision in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons upheld the "first purchase" doctrine.  Immediately it drew praised from libraries, museums retailers, and marketers such as Ebay, all of which filed briefs in support of Kirtsaeng.  The decision was blasted by publishers and the software industry which view it as a substantial subtraction for the bundle of their intellectual property rights.

Kirtsaeng, a math student from Thailand, bought textbooks in Asia where there were sold for much less, then re-sold them for $900,000 through Ebay in the United States, making a tidy $100,000 profit.  The books were identical to texts used at U.S. schools except for a notation that they could not be exported.

John Wiley & Sons sued, claiming Kirtsaeng violated the copyright by selling the cheaper books in the United States.  The District Court held that the first sale doctrine did not apply to overseas purchases, and a jury awarded the publisher $600,000 in damages.  the 2d Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, in a split decision, affirmed.

The first sale doctrine holds, in short, that once an item is purchased, the original publisher / manufacturer loses his copyright protection.  Whoever purchases the item can resell it without violating the copyright.  It's why you can sell a used book, or a CD, or even a car.

In reaching the decision, the Court stated: "Reliance on the “first sale" doctrine is also deeply embedded in the practices of booksellers, libraries, museums and retailers who have long relied on its protection." 

To view the Court's opinion, CLICK HERE.

*photo credit: <a href="">zacklur</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Stephen! You are my go-to guy for publishing info!