First Sale Doctrine


Kirtsaeng v. Wiley: Supreme Court Creates New Class of Business Venture

Posted by on Mar 27, 2013 in Copyright, First Sale Doctrine

The Supreme Court decided this week the case of Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons. The opinion will undoubtedly have a large impact on intellectual property law. This case deals with a Thai national who was subsidizing his college tuition in the U.S. by having his relatives in Thailand buy textbooks for cheap, shipping them to him in the US, and then selling the text books to Americans on sites such as eBay. He made about a $100,000 profit off this enterprise. Eventually, the publisher caught wind, and sued. This enterprise is known as the “gray market”. Exploiting the price differential between the US and overseas can be quite profitable. The legality of this practice differs depending on the type of good being sold. Prior to this ruling, on copyrighted goods purchased overseas, most judges were ruling against the gray marketeers. Kirtsaeng argued that the ‘first sale doctrine’ creates an exception that validates his actions. The “first sale doctrine” in copyright law permits the owner of a lawfully purchased copy of a copyrighted work to resell it. Once you buy a copy of something, you own that copy. You can do as you wish with it. This is codified at 17 U.S.C. § 109(a) of the Copyright Act of...

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