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U.S. Supreme Court Copyright decision affects Libraries

Supreme Court Decision affirms "first sale" doctrine

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the “first sale” doctrine related to library lending in the United States. Under the “first sale” doctrine of U.S. Copyright law libraries are allowed to lend out materials if they were lawfully purchased. The doctrine in essence ends the distribution rights of the publisher once an item has been purchased. If this case had been ruled differently, libraries might not have been able to lend out any materials purchased outside of the United States which for some libraries includes a substantial part of their collections.

The ruling in the case-- Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, INC.  was made on March 19, 2013 and has international copyright implications. The case involved an individual who was a student in the United States and was selling textbooks (published in English) obtained from relatives in Thailand. The Thai relatives  purchased the items from a foreign subsidiary of the Wiley Company at a significant discount from the U.S. price. The Wiley company claimed that this was a violation of copyright as only they held the right to sell the textbooks from their wholly owned foreign subsidiary.

The court ruled that under the "first sale" doctrine--the fact that the textbooks had been lawfully purchased  gave Mr. Kirtsaeng the right to resell them. Apparently textbook publishers have differential pricing arrangements according  to what those in a particular geographic area can afford. To access the slip opinion of the United States Supreme Court for this case click on to this link:

Posted by:
Watkins, Michael P on April 05, 2013
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