The Supreme Court in a 6-3 ruling, held that the doctrine of first sale, which allows for legally acquired copyrighted works to be resold by their owners, does apply to works made overseas. This is a huge deal. In Kirtsaeng vs. Wiley a Thai national (Kirtsaeng) came to the U.S. to study at Cornell and U.S.C. To help pay for his expenses, he resold textbooks his family purchased at bookstores in Thailand. We’re talking several hundred thousand dollars worth of textbooks. The profit was in the range of $100,000. This caught the attention of Wiley (a textbook publisher) who sued for copyright infringement. The district court found for Wiley and imposed statutory damages of $600,000. The Second Circuit affirmed.
This decision reverses the Second Circuit court decision which ruled that “lawfully made” limited the first sale doctrine to those items made in the areas that the U.S. Copyright Act is law. So that means you couldn’t resell items made in China for instance.
This had a potentially huge impact on the geek community as video games, comics, movies, etc. are rarely made here in the United States. If the Supreme Court upheld the original decision, it would have decimated the second-hand market.
The Supreme Court decided though there is no “geographical limitation” on the copyright law.
The fact that the Act does not instantly protect an American copyright holder from unauthorized piracy taking place abroad does not mean the Act is inapplicable to copies made abroad.
Numerous organizations, associations and more were also acknowledged for their comments on the case in that this would have curtailed the “progress of science and useful arts.”