An enterprising PhD student from Thailand discovered that he could make a profit by reselling textbooks on eBay that were bought in Thailand and shipped to him in the U.S. It’s important to note that the textbooks being bought and shipped to the student were legitimate copies of textbooks that were being manufactured and sold in Asia at a much lower price than the same textbooks are sold here in the U.S. (hence the profit margin). The student was sued by a textbook publisher for copyright infringement and the lawsuit made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2013.
The Arguments on both sides:
THE TEXTBOOK PUBLISHER argued that copies of the textbooks that were manufactured and sold outside the U.S. could not be imported and resold here in the U.S without their permission.
THE STUDENT argued that legitimate copies of the textbooks could be bought and resold freely as per the “first-sale doctrine” of the U.S. Copyright law.
The first-sale doctrine is codified in Section 109 of the Copyright Act and states that, “the owner of a particular copy…. lawfully made under this title… is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy.”
In March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for the enterprising student. Promoting free trade was the primary theme of the court’s opinion. The court held that Section 109 of the Copyright Act does not include a geographical limitation on the resale of legitimately purchased goods containing copyrighted content or materials. If permission of each and every copyright owner was needed to resell items made over-seas, free trade would be impaired. The court reiterated that the intention of the Copyright Act is to “promote the progress of science and useful arts” and is not to impair free trade nor restrict the use and resale of many lawfully purchased items.
BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.
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See also: KIRTSAENG v. JOHN WILEY & SONS, INC. The US Supreme Court opinion available by clicking here and at www.oyez.org; Justice Breyer delivered the opinion for the Supreme Court: www.law.cornell.edu; Copyright Act, Section 109: www.copyright.gov; @iplegalfreebies and www.kasterlegal.com.