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. Wileya 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.”
Variety has run an article looking at the increasingly murky area of copyright and intellectual property when it comes to some of our most beloved characters. While major publishers are reaping piles of cash, some creators and their heirs are using a provision in copyright law to challenge ownership. FIGHT!
We’ve already seen Superman split down the middle:
A federal judge has split up key parts of the mythology. DC Comics and its parent Warner Bros. still control many key parts of the storyline developed after his debut in 1938, such as Superman’s ability to fly, Kryptonite and the character of Lex Luthor, not to mention international rights and trademarks.
But the heirs to co-creator and writer Jerry Siegel, according to a 2008 opinion from U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Larson, have a claim on such things as Superman’s distinctive blue leotard, a red cape and boots, his ability to leap tall buildings and repel bullets and to run faster than a locomotive, as well as other significant aspects of his origins.
The estate of Jack Kirby is taking on Marvel, over the rights to such characters as Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four.
The slew of cases revolves around a 1976 revision of the Copyright Act that gives creators and their heirs the ability, under certain conditions, to reclaim ownership of characters after a passage of time, regardless of whether they had assigned their rights over at some point in their careers. Also another provision of the Copyright Act lets creators of works on or after Jan. 1, 1978, to terminate deals (with some restrictions) in which they transferred ownership of material they created to a company.
Numerous lawsuits are already underway and the lawyers are also raking up the cash. Only time (and a judge) will tell what the ending of this story is.