First Sale Doctrine in peril

by TOMMY ALLAN Staff Writer

The Supreme Court agreed on Monday, April 16 to hear arguments in a case that will affect ownership of products assembled abroad, and the first sale doctrine.

In 2011, textbook maker John Wiley & Sons sued graduate student Supap Kirtsaeng for purchasing textbooks overseas at a cheaper cost and selling them on eBay without the publishers consent. According to Wired, “[A] New York federal jury agreed with  John Wiley  & Sons’ position that the first-sale doctrine did not apply, and awarded $600,000 in damages for copyright infringement.”

Freshman Kevin Latwis says, “The whole idea of suing somebody for selling a product that they bought with their own money is a very stupid idea.”

The First Sale Doctrine, signed into law in 1908, says that “an individual who knowingly purchases a copy of a copyrighted work from the copyright holder receives the right to sell, display or otherwise dispose of that particular copy, notwithstanding the interests of the copyright owner,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The doctrine gave consumers a right to buy and sell products from companies, regardless of copyright. After the first sale of an item, companies no longer have any legal say in the distribution of their products, excluding digital copies.

For example, a customer purchases a Maroon 5 CD from Best Buy. After the initial purchase, the customer is free to sell the CD at any time. Excluding any digital copies or illegally reproduced CDs, the Recording Industry Association of America no longer holds the ownership to that CD.

However, the Supreme Court will debate whether or not the First Sale Doctrine applies to products created overseas. This includes products such as iPods, iPads, watches, and even textbooks.

Freshman Tyler Andersack says, “I have sold Phones before. I have had about 18 or so. If I were to get a copyright claim on at least one, I would get very upset since I spent my own money on them, instead of my parents.”

Though Apple owns the copyright to the iPod and iPad brands, the products are assembled abroad using copyrighted technology from other companies. Therefore, if a consumer wishes to resell his or her iPad, they must contact each individual copyright holder and obtain permission to sell that product.

If the Supreme Court rules against the application of the First Sale Doctrine for products created outside the U.S., it could have a profound impact on a person’s ownership of the product. Consumers would no longer own anything they purchase.

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