Supreme Court rules against publisher on copyright protections

WASHINGTON Tue Mar 19, 2013 11:26am EDT

Security guards walk the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, October 1, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Security guards walk the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, October 1, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Tuesday said U.S. copyright holders cannot block the resale inside the country of products they make elsewhere, a major case affecting the annual importation of tens of billions of dollars of gray market goods.

By a 6-3 vote, the country's highest court said the "first sale doctrine" applies to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad.

The decision will provide support for the $63 billion gray market, in which third parties import brand-name goods protected by trademark or copyright into the United States.

The case arose after Supap Kirtsaeng, a Thai national who studied math at Cornell University and the University of Southern California, helped pay for his education by reselling textbooks through eBay Inc's website that family and friends had bought in Thailand and shipped to him.

Eight textbooks came from an Asian unit of John Wiley & Sons Inc, which sued Kirtsaeng for copyright infringement and won a $600,000 damages award from a federal jury.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld the award in August 2011, saying foreign copies can never be resold in the United States without permission of copyright owners. The Supreme Court ruling overturns the 2nd Circuit.

But Kirtsaeng said the "first-sale" doctrine of copyright law protected him and other owners of "lawfully made" copies who sell them without the copyright owners' permission.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority opinion. The court was not split along ideological lines, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal, writing a dissenting opinion in which she was joined by Justice Elena Kagan, another liberal, and the conservative Justice Samuel Alito.

The case is Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons Inc, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 11-697.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller and Eric Beech)

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Comments (7)
thomasgaudett wrote:
This article has an incorrect statement. It says, “The court was not split along ideological lines, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal, writing a dissenting opinion in which she was joined by Justice Elena Kagan, another liberal, and the conservative Justice Samuel Alito.”

It is true that the Court was not divided ideologically in this case. However, Justice Ginsburg (a liberal) wrote the dissent, which was joined by Anthony Kennedy (a conservative) and, for the most part, Antonin Scalia (a conservative).

Mar 19, 2013 11:32pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
cjmyers wrote:
Good news… it’s long been obvious the textbook prices in the US aren’t based on what the books are worth, but on the largest amount the captive market can bear to pay.

Mar 21, 2013 11:37am EDT  --  Report as abuse
captwasabi wrote:
“Good news… it’s long been obvious the textbook prices in the US aren’t based on what the books are worth, but on the largest amount the captive market can bear to pay.”

This comment makes literally no sense whatsoever.

There has never been any obstruction to purchasing a book overseas. The argument here was that one could not do that for the purpose of reselling the book in order to undercut the copyright holder here in the US.

It’s no small surprise that books printed overseas are cheaper than books printed here in the US.

Mar 21, 2013 3:41pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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