Supreme Court Will Decide If You Actually Own What You've Bought

from the yes,-it's-come-to-this dept

We've written about the Wiley v. Kirtsaeng case many times already, but it's an important one to follow. While everything else in DC closed down to bunker down for Hurricane Sandy, the Supreme Court Justices decided to soldier on and actually hear the case today. Joe Mullin has written up the most thorough and detailed examination of the case, including the fact that Kirsaeng is merely the first, and most well-known case brought by copyright holders trying to stop them from reselling legally purchased works made outside the US. Copyright holders love the fact that Kirtsaeng is the central case here, because he earned a lot of money -- so they can argue that he's somehow "unfairly" profiting from international arbitrage. But, as Mullin notes, lawsuits have been brought against many others who were selling a lot less.

Copyright holders keep trying to downplay the "horror story" scenarios that many of us worried about a ruling in favor of Wiley could lead to. However, if the Supreme Court says that it's copyright infringement to sell a copyright-covered work made outside the US, but legally imported in, you can bet that all sorts of companies will seek to take advantage of this fact. We've already talked about the predecessor case here, Omega v. Costco, in which merely putting a copyright image that no one would see on the back of a watch could open up the ability to block resale of physical products. While Omega eventually got smacked down in the lower court, that was for copyright misuse -- the first sale issue stuck. So, all companies need to do is slightly modify the way they use copyright, and they can ban your ability to resell products.

If you believe in basic property rights, this should freak you out. It's kind of funny to see the MPAA and RIAA -- who like to pretend they're in favor of property rights -- right upfront in arguing against it here.

While it's pretty rare to see "activism" around a Supreme Court case, the folks at Demand Progress have put together a campaign called You've Been Owned to speak out about this. While that won't impact the Supreme Court, they're right that this issue is going to matter in Congress eventually. Whichever side loses this case is going to run to Congress with pre-written legislation to "fix" the Court's ruling. If you believe that you should own what you bought -- even if it's made in a foreign country -- then this is a case to pay attention to, and to be ready to speak out about when the inevitable legislative "fix" is introduced.

Filed Under: copyright, first sale, kirtsaeng, ownership, property rights, supreme court


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  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Oct 2012 @ 11:22am

    However, if the Supreme Court says that it's copyright infringement to sell a copyright-covered work made outside the US, but legally imported in, you can bet that all sorts of companies will seek to take advantage of this fact.

    Oh it wouldn't be hard to imagine the chain of events from such a ruling at all...

    1. Economy takes a massive hit, as every company that can shuts down local production of their products, and moves all production overseas.

    2. All companies that were able to take advantage of step 1 now only sell products that are manufactured overseas, allowing them to use the law to shut down or massively damage the used goods market. Economy takes another massive hit.

    3. Lack of competition in the form of the used goods market allows companies to raise prices as much as they care to, reducing by a good portion the number of sales, as more and more people simply can't afford the products anymore. Economy takes another hit.

    4a. Companies see a reduction of sales, and do what they've always done, and whine to the government that 'It's those criminals hurting our sales again, that's the only possible reason our profits could be decreasing!'

    4b. Politicians, who these days seem to have the cognitive functions, pattern recognition skills, and ability to understand any info that doesn't come with a donation attached to it as a week dead slug, pass even more idiotic laws to try and 'fix' the problem, inevitably making things even worse.

    (And because I just couldn't resist)
    *Skipping ahead a few steps...*

    23. Cthulhu arrives, takes one look at the mess the US is in, and determines there's not really anything he could do to make things any more chaotic. Proceeds to go back to sleep for a couple more eons.

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