Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
By Sarah Jeong – Edited by Alex Shank
Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., No. 11-697 (U.S. Mar. 19, 2013)
The Supreme Court held in a 6-3 decision that the “first sale” doctrine applies to copies of copyrighted work lawfully made abroad, reversing the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The case involved the resale in the United States of approximately 600 copies of textbooks that originally had been bought in Thailand at relatively inexpensive prices. On remand, the Supreme Court ordered that the Second Circuit conduct further proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion.
The unauthorized importation of copyrighted material is barred by § 602 of the Copyright Act of 1976 (17 U.S.C. § 602), and John Wiley & Sons’ (“Wiley”) right to distribute is protected by § 106(3). However, the first sale doctrine of § 109(a) extinguishes the copyright owner’s interest in a particular copy after the first sale to a consumer. At issue in Kirtsaeng was whether § 109(a) applies to goods of “foreign manufacture”—more specifically, whether the phrase “lawfully made under this title” applied to goods like the Asian editions of the Wiley textbooks. In holding that the first sale doctrine also extends to these goods, the Supreme Court removed the geographical limitations to the first sale doctrine placed by the Ninth Circuit in Omega S. A. v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 541 F.3d 982 (9th Cir. 2008). Furthermore, the holding undercuts distributors’ attempts to divide regional markets and practice economically efficient price discrimination.
The Los Angeles Times provides an overview of the case. Professor James Grimmelmann of New York Law School discusses the case in Publishers Weekly, calling the issues in the case “significant.” Ars Technica also comments on the decision, celebrating it as a “vindication” of the first sale doctrine. JOLT Digest previously reported on the Second Circuit’s holding in favor of Wiley, affirming the decision of the District Court for the Southern District of New York. JOLT Digest also previously commented on the future of the first sale doctrine after Quality King, a case heavily relied on by the Supreme Court in Kirtsaeng. (more…)