An upcoming Supreme Court case, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, involves an eBay seller who was sued by a textbook publisher for reselling books. The seller, a graduate student and entrepreneurial seller, sold the books to help cover tuition expenses. These were legitimate books that the book publisher manufactured overseas — they were not counterfeit, pirated, or stolen. Yet, the publisher is trying to use U.S. copyright law to stop the book sales and make the seller pay $600,000 in damages – more than 15 times what he made from selling the books.
It is possible that an extreme application of U.S. copyright law might enable manufacturers to force retailers and consumers to first have to obtain permission from the manufacturer before reselling or even donating goods manufactured overseas. This rule could affect most of the goods we use every day, from books to cell phones. Manufacturers would retain ownership of an item no matter how many times it changes owner. This rule could threaten the laws of ownership and resale that we all enjoy.
When you purchase an item on eBay, you should be able to resell it, give it away, or use it as you see fit. Likewise, when you sell an item on eBay, ownership of the item should transfer to the buyer.
Citizens for Ownership Rights (CFOR) is a coalition of public interest organizations asking individuals to stand up for their rights as buyers and sellers. CFOR is currently gathering signatures for a petition that will be sent directly to the President and Attorney General urging them to support the rights of Americans to purchase legitimate goods, resell those goods, give them away, or use them in any legal manner as they see fit. Visit ownershiprights.org and sign the petition to protect your ownership rights.