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U.S. Supreme Court To Decide if You Have the Right to Sell Items You Already Own

Flikr user Sam Howzit
Flikr user Sam Howzit

The headline makes it seem like “mondo bizarre” but one case the Supreme Court of the United States will be considering will be whether everyday Americans have the right to resell their property.

This is all coming about because of a ruling handed down by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year that stated anything manufactured overseas is not subject to the “first sale” principle…a doctrine that the Supreme Court has recognized since 1908, which allows you to resell your stuff without worry because the copyright holder only had control over the first sale.

However, that can all change and it’s all because of the above stated lower court ruling having to do with this case.

The case stems from Supap Kirtsaeng’s college experience. A native of Thailand, Kirtsaeng came to the U.S. 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 U.S.

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

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

In August 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a lower court’s ruling that anything that was manufactured overseas is not subject to the first-sale principle. Only American-made products or “copies manufactured domestically” were.

“It means that it’s harder for consumers to buy used products and harder for them to sell them,” said Jonathan Bland, 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.”

“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.

Both Ammori and Bland worry that a decision in favor of the lower court would lead to some strange, even absurd consequences.

For example, it could become an incentive for manufacturers to have everything produced overseas because they would be able to control every resale.

It could also become a weighty issue for auto trade-ins and resales, considering about 40% of most U.S.-made cars carry technology and parts that were made overseas.

So now the iPad that you may want to sell….hell, just about anything that has technology developed abroad would require you to get permission of the copyright holder before you’re given the right to sell your stuff.

If the Supreme Court upholds the lower court decision, imagine the number of businesses this would imperil…not to mention the fact that the weekend yard sale could become a thing of the past!

Like I said, “mondo bizarre”….no?

Your thoughts.

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