The Colorado Connection reports that “Costco, eBay, Google and the nation’s top art museums are backing a Thai graduate student against book publishers, the movie and music industries and other manufacturers in a Supreme Court battle over copyright protections with important implications for consumers and multibillion dollar annual sales online and in discount stores.”
Supap Kirtsaeng was studying in the United States when he re-sold copyrighted books that his relatives had first bought outside of the U.S. This provoked a copyright infringement lawsuit from publisher John Wiley & Sons. The Supreme Court argue this case on Monday.
Kirtsaeng sold $90,000 worth of textbooks published by Wiley and others on eBay, making $100,00 in profit on the books. The international editions of the books were much less expensive than American editions, and were essentially the same in text. A jury in New York decided that Kirtsaeng sold eight copies of Wiley textbooks without permission and awarded Wiley $600,000.
The article says that “the issue at the Supreme Court concerns what protection the holder of a copyright has after a product made outside the United States is sold for the first time.” This case will determine whether U.S. copyright protection applies to items made and purchased abroad, then re-sold in America without permission from the manufacturer.
This case could affect many items that are sold on eBay, Google, and other online and brick and mortar discount stores. Google and eBay say in court papers that the appellate ruling “threatens the increasingly important e-commerce sector of the economy.” But producers of copyrighted movies, music, and other material say that their businesses will be hurt if unauthorized sales are allowed.
Kirtsaeng’s lawyers say that the textbooks are only an example of a larger point that manufactures drive up the prices for U.S consumers, with prices rising more quickly than the pace of inflation.
Wiley’s lawyers argue that current copyright laws, which have been in place since 1976, has not threatened museums or other institutions that house or display foreign made work.
The case is Kirtsaeng v. Wiley & Sons, 11-697.