By Brandon Buell
The debate began after a former Cornell University and University of Southern California student was sued by textbook publisher John Wiley & Sons for copyright infringement in New York. The defendant, Supap Kirtsaeng, had family purchase textbooks in Thailand and ship them to the United States where he resold them on eBay. A Bloomberg.com reported Kirtsaeng made about $900,000.
Kirtsaeng and his attorneys used the “First Sale Doctrine” as his defense.The doctrine, established in 1908, makes it legal for a consumer to resell a product.
A federal judge in the case ruled in favor of the plaintiff, John Wiley & Sons, stating the doctrine only applied to products made in the United States.
Law school professor Jonathan Band, of Georgetown University, believes the ruling will make it difficult for the consumer to buy used products. In a legal brief to the Supreme Court, Band wrote, “It means that it’s harder for consumers to buy used products and harder for them to sell them. This has a huge impact on all consumer groups.”
PUC students buy and sell used textbooks online or in the campus bookstore every quarter. This ruling would make those transactions illegal, leaving students with limited options for buying and selling textbooks. In order to sell textbooks, students would need the publisher’s permission with the possibility of having to return a percentage of the sale to the publisher. While this could benefit textbook publishers, it would hurt PUC students in need of cheaper textbooks.
Hillary Brill, eBay’s global policy counsel, told Bloomberg.com that she believes consumers have the right to do whatever they want with their goods. “If you buy a legitimate, authentic good, then you own it, plain and simple,” she said. “You have a right to resell it, lend it, give it away or donate it.”
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) both supported the ruling. In a separate legal brief, the organizations stated the ruling would protect copyright owners’ investments overseas. “They rely on the ability to divide rights across markets and to plan for and control the timing and manner of the release of their works in different markets around the world. Unauthorized importation of home video discs and CDs into the U.S. market could…undermine copyright owners’ ability to recoup their investment in creative activity.”
The Supreme Court has a long road ahead of them. If the Supreme Court rules that reselling of copyrighted material is illegal, students would have limited ways to buy secondhand books, thus increasing the already high cost of receiving an education.
We can expect a ruling in the Kirtsaeng vs. John Wiley & Sons case by next summer.