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 Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Oct 2012 @ 4:43pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Also read as they have a virtual monopoly on what they produce, charge prices well in excess of the costs, make minor alterations to destroy the resale market for the texts books to push out another copy with 4 changes.

    They have no competition and no controls over what they do. You can't very well vote with your wallet when the text is "required" by the school even if you only use 5 pages out of it in the end.

    I guess their greed will have damaging effects on the American economy and education system, when it is very clear they can create and sell the texts well below what they charge here. They have control over the market, agreements to be picked with schools, all at the expense of people trying to better themselves through education.

    Your argument seems to be Kirsaeng is a horrible person for showing the world they are ripping Americans off. Think about it, he purchased, imported, sold all of these books and managed with all of those additional costs to sell it for less and still make a killing.

    This case is not just about someone importing some books, this case is about when you buy something is it yours. Do we have to give even more rights and control over to corporations for things we purchase? And why is it when all of these rights and controls they refuse to replace these items. They pretend they are still their property, it seems that they should be forced to maintain it for the owner for a lifetime.

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