Court:Reselling Books Bought Abroad Isn't A Copyright Violation

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The Supreme Court ruled that Americans have the right to resell goods bought and made overseas. This is a win for consumers, but bad news for publishers and other manufacturers who like to price products differently around the world.


NPR's business news starts with some books for resale.


INSKEEP: Start reading now. The Supreme Court has ruled that buying books overseas and reselling them in the United States does not violate copyright law. Yesterday's six/three decision comes as a relief to companies like eBay and Costco that resell all sorts of foreign goods.

NPR's Dan Bobkoff reports.

DAN BOBKOFF, BYLINE: Once you buy a book in the U.S., you're free to lend it, throw it away or sell it. This is called the First Sale Doctrine, says law professor Mark McKenna of Notre Dame.

MARK MCKENNA: This is why there are used book stores.

BOBKOFF: But the question at stake in this case was whether that still applies to products sold and made in another country.

Grad student Supap(ph) Kirksang(ph) made tens of thousands of dollars having his family buy textbooks in his native Thailand and them selling them to Americans at a profit. The publishing company John Wiley and Sons sued him for copyright infringement. But the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, saying the First Sale Doctrine applies no matter where the product was bought.

McKenna says the majority was thinking about more than just textbooks. If the case had gone the other way...

MCKENNA: You know, you might not be able to resell your car if your car is manufactured abroad, because it has a lot of copyrighted things in it.

BOBKOFF: But law professor Robin Feldman of UC Hastings says this ruling is bad for copyright owners.

ROBIN FELDMAN: We're watching the Supreme Court steadily cut back on intellectual property rights.

BOBKOFF: Paul Goldstein of Stanford Law School thinks publishers could react by producing different versions in different regions, or by just charging more.

PAUL GOLDSTEIN: Publishers like Wiley are going to raise the prices of the Asian edition.

BOBKOFF: But for now, if you want to resell some books online, the Supreme Court has your back - no matter where you bought them.

Dan Bobkoff, NPR News, New York.

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