The U.S. Supreme Court is still working on the issue of whether copyrighted works purchased overseas can be resold in the U.S., without the permission of the copyright owner. The Court previously considered the issue in 2010, but ultimately split 4-4 after Justice Elena Kagan recused herself.
The current case, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, involves a Thai textbook dealer who purchased textbooks overseas and sold them to fellow students to help finance his education. Following a copyright infringement lawsuit by publisher John Wiley & Sons, the student was ordered to pay damages in the amount of $600,000. The verdict is now being challenged before the Supreme Court.
The case is expected to have wide implications. Textbooks are just one of the products sold in the growing “gray market.” According to the Washington Post, discount sellers such as Costco and Target and Internet retailers eBay and Amazon all benefit from a $63 billion annual market for goods that are purchased abroad, then imported and resold without the permission of the copyright holder.
Other courts have reached different conclusions regarding whether the “first-sale doctrine” applies to gray market goods. The first sale doctrine entitles the owner of a lawfully made work to resell the work without the authorization of the copyright owner. Courts, including the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, have previously held that the first-sale doctrine applies only to goods made in the United States. However, the courts that have confronted the question have also acknowledged that the issue is not clear-cut because the Copyright Act also prohibits the importation of copyrighted goods without the authority of the copyright owner.
Currently, the Court heard oral arguments on October 29th. A verdict should be released in the spring of 2013.
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I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +