It all began with Supap Kirtsaeng, a student from Thailand attending an American college, who noticed that the textbooks he used in class were sold cheaper in his homeland. He asked his family if they would be willing to send him some of these textbooks. He proceeded to sell them to American students for much cheaper prices than a student bookstore and made a little profit for himself. However, it ended when the publisher John Wiley and Sons sued him for copyright infringement.
Wiley won the case and Mr. Kirtsaeng was ordered to pay $600,000. However, now the case has made its way up to the Supreme Court of the United States and there are several parties that are looking to overturn the verdict. One of the parties is the Owners’ Right Initiative with the motto of “if you bought it, you own it.” The group is composed of members such as the American Library Association, the American Association of Law Libraries, eBay, Goodwill Industries, Powell’s Books, and technology vendors.
The Owners’ Right Initiative argues for the “first sale doctrine” to be upheld, which allows a buyer to freely sell or dispose of a purchased book. The doctrine was codified into the copyright law by the Supreme Court in 1909. However, in the 1990s a section was added to the copyright law which states, “importation into the United States, without the authority of the owner of the copyright under this title, of copies . . . that have been acquired outside the United States is an infringement of the exclusive right to distribute copies.” Wiley argues that the “first sale doctrine” only applies to books “lawfully made under this title,” and only books published in the United States are governed by its copyright laws.
Previously, the lower courts have ruled in favor of Wiley, but since the decisions were usually split, experts are unsure which way the Supreme Court will rule on the case.
The Owners’ Right Initiative has warned people of the troubling consequences of the case by saying: “If the Court rules in favor of Wiley, libraries may be unable to lend books, individuals could be restricted from donating items to charities, and businesses and consumers could be prevented from selling a variety of products, from electronics, to books, to jewelry, to used cars.”
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