The United States Supreme Court has weighed in favor of Supap Kirtsaeng, an immigrant from Thailand who challenged the $600,000 he was ordered to pay for willfully infringing a textbook publisher's copyrights when he sold books first purchased overseas in the U.S. through eBay.
The important ruling deals with the first sale doctrine under U.S. copyright law, which allows for the reselling of acquired copyrighted works without the authority of the original copyright owner. Advocates for Kirtsaeng argued that limiting the first-sale doctrine would cause manufacturing to fly overseas and imperil the reselling of many goods including films and music.
John Wiley & Sons, Inc., the publisher who pursued Kirtsaeng, argued on the other hand that before copyrighted works are resold, they first had to be "lawfully made," and that illegal importation is a violation of the exclusive rights enjoyed by copyright owners.
The publisher was supported in its position by the U.S. government as well as by many of the entertainment industry associations including the MPAA and the RIAA, arguing that extending the first sale doctrine to copies made abroad could impede authors' ability to control entry into poorer nations, limit their flexibility to adapt to market conditions, and undermine territorial licensing agreements.
On Tuesday, in a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court sided with Kirtsaeng over the interests of copyright owners. The majority opinion was authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, who reversed the lower appeals court and said that the first sale doctrine permits those who buy copyrighted works overseas to resell them domestically without permission.
"We hold that the 'first sale' doctrine applies to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad," writes Justice Breyer.
More to come.