Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons and the First-Sale Doctrine

wiley-wordmark-headerAs I write this post, a well-worn copy of Rudin’s Real and Complex Analysis lies on my desk. The red cover identifies the book as a McGraw-Hill international edition, a gift from my mom who was most likely unaware of the distinction. Over the past few weeks, I have seen headlines referencing an upcoming Supreme Court case about the first-sale doctrine. It surprised me to find the case has its origins in the academic publishing world, specifically international editions of mathematics textbooks.

The justices said they will hear an appeal from a Thai student doing graduate work in the United States who tried to make ends meet by re-selling textbooks that family and friends first purchased abroad. A jury awarded textbook publisher John Wiley & Sons $600,000 after deciding that math graduate student Supap Kirtsaeng infringed on the company’s copyrights.

The quotes above and below come from the following Associated Press article: Thai student’s money-making effort at centre of US Supreme Court copyright case.

While at USC, Kirtsaeng arranged for family and friends living abroad to purchase textbooks and ship them to him. He resold the copies on eBay. Eight textbooks sold by Kirtsaeng were published by Wiley’s Asian subsidiary. The company sued the student in federal court in New York.

For more information on the case, check out SCOTUSblog, which summarizes the case as follows:

Issue: How do Section 602(a)(1) of the Copyright Act, which prohibits the importation of a work without the authority of the copyright’s owner, and Section 109(a) of the Copyright Act, which allows the owner of a copy “lawfully made under this title” to sell or otherwise dispose of the copy without the copyright owner’s permission, apply to a copy that was made and legally acquired abroad and then imported into the United States?


About Derek Smith

Former weather dude and scientific software developer. In the upcoming 2015-16 year I will complete my PhD at UCSB in nonlinear dispersive equations. I enjoy spending time with my two young daughters and running.
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