The highest court in the land ruled earlier this week that it is legal to buy and sell foreign-published textbooks in the United States without violating U.S. copyright law, ruling 6 to 3 in favor of a Thai doctoral student at the University of Southern California who paid for his education reselling textbooks online in the U.S. that he had purchased back home.
The court’s decision in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons overruled a earlier decision made by the Second Circuit Court, located in New York City, to pay the publisher $600,000 in royalties from the book sales.
According to an article in Forbes, the deciding factor in the decision was the “statutory language governing the first-sale doctrine.” The first sale doctrine allows people who buy copies of copyrighted work from the copyright holder the right to sell, display or otherwise dispose of that particular copy as they wish.
“We hold that the ‘first sale’ doctrine applies to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority.
Wiley President & CEO Stephen M. Smith said that he was disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“It is a loss for the U.S. economy, and students and authors in the U.S. and around the world,” he said. “Wiley wants to thank the many organizations, companies and individuals who filed Amicus briefs and spoke publicly and privately in support of our position.”
In the dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that the court’s decision in Kirtsaeng hampers Congress’ ability to protect “copyright owners against the unauthorized importation of low-priced, foreign-made copies of their copyrighted works.” She was joined in her opinion by Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Kirtsaeng could potentially change the way we shop for certain goods, like textbooks or luxury accessories, as it could result in a larger marketplace and lower costs for the items.
According to Breyer, if the Supreme Court had upheld the Second Circuit’s ruling, it would have “crimped the sale of many goods sold online and in discount stores, and it would have complicated the tasks of museums and libraries that contain works produced outside the United States.”