Kirtsaeng v. Wiley and why it is important to you.
The Chronicle has written a very good article about Kirtsaeng v. Wiley. The case before the Supreme Court involves Supap Kirtsaeng who financed his education by selling used textbooks. However, he bought the textbooks in Thailand where they were much cheaper and sold them in the US marketplace.
Wiley accused Kirtsaeng of infringing on its copyrights. Kirtsaeng is defending himself by invoking the first-sale doctrine. This is a long-held principle of US copyright law that gives the purchaser the legal right to do whatever with his/her purchased copy.
However, items from a foreign market are considered gray-market goods. The Supreme Court is to decide whether items from out of country can be imported and resold by someone other than the copyright holder. There had been an earlier case (Costco v. Omega). However, the justices split 4 to 4 with Justice Kagan recusing herself.
Library groups are supporting Kirtsaeng (along with bookstores, Costco, Google and eBay) saying that consumers will suffer. They have stated that “once a copyright owner sells his property, he has ‘exhausted his exclusive statutory right to control is distribution.’”
Libraries use the first-sale doctrine every day when they loan out books to people who are therefore not purchasing the book for themselves. First-sale protects libraries from violating copyright laws.
Libraries everywhere should be following this case very closely.