Supremes May “Rule” You Can’t Re-Sell Your Stuff!

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By Jennifer Waters, MarketWatch

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) — Tucked into the U.S. Supreme Court’s agenda this fall is a little-known case that could upend your ability to resell everything from your grandmother’s antique furniture to your iPhone 4.

At issue in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons is the first-sale doctrine in copyright law, which allows you to buy and then sell things like electronics, books, artwork and furniture, as well as CDs and DVDs, without getting permission from the copyright holder of those products.

Under the doctrine, which the Supreme Court has recognized since 1908, you can resell your stuff without worry because the copyright holder only had control over the first sale.

Put simply, though Apple Inc. AAPL -1.31% has the copyright on the iPhone and Mark Owen has it on the book “No Easy Day,” you can still sell your copies to whomever you please whenever you want without retribution.

That’s being challenged now for products that are made abroad, and if the Supreme Court upholds an appellate court ruling, it would mean that the copyright holders of anything you own that has been made in China, Japan or Europe, for example, would have to give you permission to sell it.

“It means that it’s harder for consumers to buy used products and harder for them to sell them,” said Jonathan Band, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries and the Association for Research Libraries. “This has huge consumer impact on all consumer groups.”

Another likely result is that it would hit you financially because the copyright holder would now want a piece of that sale.

It could be your personal electronic devices or the family jewels that have been passed down from your great-grandparents who immigrated from Spain. It could be a book that was written by an American writer but printed and bound overseas, or an Italian painter’s artwork.

There are implications for a variety of wide-ranging U.S. entities, including libraries, musicians, museums and even resale juggernauts eBay Inc. EBAY -1.13% and Craigslist. U.S. libraries, for example, carry some 200 million books from foreign publishers.

“It would be absurd to say anything manufactured abroad can’t be bought or sold here,” said Marvin Ammori, a First Amendment lawyer and Schwartz Fellow at the New American Foundation who specializes in technology issues.

The case stems from Supap Kirtsaeng’s college experience. A native of Thailand, Kirtsaeng came to America in 1997 to study at Cornell University. When he discovered that his textbooks, produced by Wiley, were substantially cheaper to buy in Thailand than they were in Ithaca, N.Y., he rallied his Thai relatives to buy the books and ship them to him in the United States.

He then sold them on eBay, making upward of $1.2 million, according to court documents.

Wiley, which admitted that it charged less for books sold abroad than it did in the United States, sued him for copyright infringement. Kirtsaeng countered with the first-sale doctrine.

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  1. I remember in my university years, that almost all of my undergraduate texts were purchased by me, already used. And at the end of the term, I usually re-sold these either directly to another underclassman, or to one of the many bookstores serving the university community. Apparently now, these irrational book publishers, in an age when all university students should be using e-readers, want to chain everyone to buying new, bound copies of every textbook!

    This situation came about from the obviously stupid policy instituted by (at least) one textbook publisher, that found a way to extract more money from American university students than from people using these same books abroad; after all, they had a captive market in Amerika, didn’t they? If they had any brains beyond their ignorance of economics, they would price the book the same worldwide!

  2. It looks like we need Gary Johnson for president more than ever. He recognizes and opposes crony capitalism. Too be not many people will vote for him. I will just to send a message. Our country is at risk.

  3. This sounds like the story about the guy that killed the goose to get the golden eggs. What is it about greed that blinds you to its consequences?

    I suspect if Wiley wins the case, it will lose in the end. Why would I buy something if when I’m done using it I can not sell it unless I pay the original seller again?

    I would be very surprised if the court is not 5 to 4 one way or the other. The bastards can’t seem to agree on the simplest of things.

      • They argue over ownership and control, because most people seemingly don’t understand that control is everything that makes ownership worth something.

        Socialists want to own the means of production to control it while fascists only want to control it.

  4. This is part of the ongoing move to uniformity of laws around the world…another preparation for world government.

    If the “supreme” court passes it, it will be in obeisance to the treaty doctrine–that is, if we’ve signed on to a treaty, it has the force of law second only to the Constitution.

    Since they ignore the Constitution, they can sign these retarded treaties and subvert our sovereignty to favor globalist corporations. The upcoming TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) is NAFTA and GATT on bath salts; it’ll chew your face off. It allows globalist corporations to sue governments for “free-trade” violations.

    Welcome to neo-feudalism, serfs! Crony capitalism becomes fascism, the State and Corporation merge, and uniform world-wide laws fuck you over for eternity.

    Here’s the best part: we have the power to overturn this so easily…learn NOW how to say NO!

    My fondest wish for the sheeple around me is that they grow some balls and reclaim their manhood. Just because it’s “the law”, doesn’t make it right…and doesn’t mean you have to follow it.

    I agree with BrentP that this will be yet another selectively enforced law. But its impact will be devastating, because so few people have the spirit of resistance. It will kill markets like eBay.

  5. Hi!, Fellow Yard Sale Patrons Et El:

    I purchased used computers, computer components, chairs & various stuff at County Equipment Sales over the years. I wounder what that kind of regulation would do to those sales too? Will they make it all retroactive as well or just devise a new starting point date for making everyone liable? Maybe you will need to pay a registration fee plus purchase a license to sell stuff in our yards etc.? They need to drop such ideas & stop harassing us!!

    RUSS SMITH, CALIFORNIA (One Of The Broke States)

  6. I think such a silly law would encourage barter/gifting, and also STOP many items produced in foreign countries from being sold in Amerika (or sold for a greatly reduced price) This would create more underground economic activity – or maybe that is what is behind this whole fiasco – to STOP so much importing of foreign-made goods…

  7. For once, one of the big corporations that use Americans to fund low sale prices in other countries in the world got the lesson that was coming to them. It is costing Poor and Middle Class Americans so much to fund low-cost items for other parts of the world that many Americans have to do without products they need. Microsoft and Big Pharma are other companies gouging Americans. As I recall, Microsoft charges $5.00 for Windows in China and $1.00 in Africa. If you find any low cost Windows suppliers let me know.

    • This is a great way to keep China in the market. We don’t want people selling cheap Chinese goods second hand; force everyone to buy new cheap Chinese stuff! No hand me downs!

      Remember: “A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”

  8. Not to mention your used Toyota automobile. The used car market could change radically! And if u.s. Companies see this they’ll want it to! I don’t think it could happen. Used cars, boats, everything. How about the art investment market? There would be no limit to this! What an economic disaster this could be!

  9. I would not worry too much about this. It would be impossible for the Gubmint to track every person to person sale much less figure out who is due what. I can see Ebay tacking on a bunch of fees to the demise of their business. Craigslist may go to barter or “will trade for a suitable donation”. This really all about Big Business wanting to force you to purchase something new everytime you need something. Have some cajones, America! You, as the consumer, decide the market, not Big Business as the producer. Jeez! Americans are so woefully ignorant of the most basic of market forces. We could get rid of the TSA if Ameicans would just boycott flying for a few months. Remember Nancy Regan’s advice…. “JUST SAY NO!!!”

      • I (regretfully) agree.

        It will take a mass die-off, frankly. Or at least, a passing away of the current generation by natural causes, over time. I doubt I will live to see the rebirth of liberty. I doubt anyone much over 30 will. We are headed into a very dark epoch in human history, one analogous to the collapse of Europe after the final sacking of Rome. There will be isolated redoubts of comparative safety, perhaps. But it will be tenuous and temporary.

        There are just too many of them – and not enough of us.

    • Nobody in government is going to watch people. They just want methods of recording everything. Methods of turning more everyday things into crimes. This way when someone honest decides to say run for office they can ruin him. Anyone who is in their way can be removed. It’s about the same people, the same social clicks holding on to power forever.

      If Joe Blow of Rockford, Illinois sells a 1982 grey market Mercedes nobody in government is going to care. If Alex Jones of Austin Texas sells a toy at a yard sale with some regulation that says he can’t, he’s going to have serious trouble to deal with. That’s how it’s going to work. They can’t keep an eye on us all… it’s about being able to attack those they want to attack.

    • I agree. Just one day of boycott would bring the TSA to its knees, but Americans have become a bunch of pussies.

      I quit flying several years ago. I drove from Flagstaff, AZ to Youngstown, OH last year and again earlier this year (4000 miles round trip each time) when gas was $3.60/gal and my SUV fuel consumption on the HWY is 17miles/gal. You do the math. It would have been cheaper to fly, but I’ll be damned if I will allow the f&%$ng government to treat me as they do those the pussies that fly.

      • Hi Louande,

        It’s worse than that, as I see it. They’re not so much pussies as they just don’t give a damn. It’s “no big deal” to them to be required to assume the I Surrender! pose and submit to a pat down – the sort of thing only criminals used to have to submit to.

        Americans, generally, are ok with all this. They don’t consider it an infringement of their rights or their dignity. They are expedient-minded and passive.

        Which is even worse, as I see it than being timid or fearful.

    • Like the IRS and traffic regulations, the point of this would be to produce a more compliant, sheeplike population. If everyone is guilty of something, the threat of selective prosecution will tend to keep us all in our places.

  10. Things in this country are getting more and more absurd. It feels more and more like we’re living in some strange science fiction world.

    I can’t imagine the impact on people if this passes. Ridiculous!!!!!

  11. Oh, how I hope this does not pass! I am not wealthy, and I have 15 grandchildren. I do most of my Christmas and birthday shopping at yard sales! I’m not sure how some of us would make it if we couldn’t buy used things–and how can we know if some things were made overseas. Even many clothing items were either made there, or the cloth to make them was. What a blow it would be to E-bay and Craig’s List, too!

  12. I have bought copies of textbooks from overseas. I never considered reselling the books. Congratulations to that guy for his ingenuity.

    I counter that they may have to minimize the price difference between different countries. I can not fault a consumer for trying to get the best value for their money.

    This could be bad for consumers.


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