The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a blow to publishers Tuesday, ruling that purchasing books and goods legally abroad and then reselling them in the United States doesn’t violate U.S. copyright laws. In a 6-3 decision, the court threw out a lower-court ruling against a graduate student who sold bought cheap textbooks created for foreign markets by a U.S. publisher at below-market prices.
The court ruled that once goods are lawfully sold, publishers and manufacturers lose the protection of U.S. copyright laws.
The case started when John Wiley & Sons successfully sued Thai grad student Supap Kirtsaeng for selling $900,000 worth of international textbooks to other students in the U.S. A New York court ruled Kirtsaeng sold the titles without permission and awarded Wiley $600,000.
Advocates against the lower-court ruling claimed that if allowed to stand, it would hamper the sale of many goods sold online and in discount stores. Retailers estimated that most of the more than $2.3 trillion worth of foreign goods imported in 2011 were bought after they were first purchased abroad.
Dissenting justices argued the court ignored Congress’s intent to protect companies against low-priced foreign copies of copyrighted works.
“We are disappointed that the U.S. Supreme court has decided in favor of supap Kirtsaeng and overturned the Second Circuit’s ruling,” said Stephen M Smith, president and CEO of Wiley, in a statement about the decision. “It is a loss for the U.S. economy, and students and authors in the U.S. and around the world.”