Wow. I’m very surprised by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Kirtsaeng vs. Wiley case. I figured it would go the other way. Here’s a nice summary of the majority opinion from the Supreme Court (you’ll find more detailed analysis here):
Putting section numbers to the side, we ask whether the “first sale” doctrine applies to protect a buyer or other lawful owner of a copy (of a copyrighted work) lawfully manufactured abroad. Can that buyer bring that copy into the United States (and sell it or give it away) without obtaining permission to do so from the copyright owner? Can, for example, someone who purchases, say at a used bookstore, a book printed abroad subsequently resell it without the copyright owner’s permission?
In our view, the answers to these questions are, yes. We hold that the “first sale” doctrine applies to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad.
So does this mean we’ll see more enterprising individuals buying low-priced textbooks overseas and reselling them here in the U.S.? Perhaps, but what really intrigues me is the question of first sale doctrine and the resale of digital goods.
That, of course, is at the heart of ReDigi‘s business model. You might be aware of the lawsuit ReDigi is fighting with Capitol Records. And yes, one key difference between this and Kirtsaeng is that the former has to do with licensing vs. ownership of digital goods while the latter is about the scope of first sale in physical goods. Nevertheless, the Kirtsaeng ruling can only help ReDigi’s case and that’s a good thing for anyone who wants the ability to resell their digital goods. ReDigi offers the resale of digital music today but they and other key players, Amazon and Apple, undoubtedly have ebook reselling on their radar for tomorrow.
Update: I just spoke with ReDigi CEO John Ossenmacher and here’s what he had to say about the ruling:
We are pleased and excited to see such a solid and resounding victory for American consumers, businesses and charitable organizations. All too often there are those who believe the sky is falling and become defensive and protectionist to a faulty end, we see instead a significant opportunity for ALL to prosper in the digital ecosystem more greatly than they ever thought possible. It is all a matter of perspective and moving to the future in a positive constructive way versus trying to fight the progress that will ultimately be determined to be right and just.
Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court. “Can that buyer bring that copy into the United States (and sell it or give it away) without obtaining permission to do so from the copyright owner? Can, for example, someone who purchases, say at a used bookstore, a book printed abroad subsequently resell it without the copyright owner’s permission? In our view, the answers to these questions are, yes.”
We could not agree more, thank you.
So what’s your opinion on the Kirtsaeng ruling just handed down by the Supreme Court? Is this good for the industry?