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eBay Government Relations Shares Update on Supreme Court Ownership Rights Case

November 6, 2012

Last week the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Kirtsaeng v. Wiley, and (despite Hurricane Sandy’s onslaught) eBay Government Relations was there to cover it.  The Kirtsaeng case involves an eBay seller who was sued by a textbook publisher for reselling legitimate authentic books. The seller, a graduate student and entrepreneur, 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. 

The textbook publisher is trying to claim that US copyright law prohibits the resale of copyrighted books that were manufactured overseas, unless the reseller first asks the copyright holder for permission to resell the legitimate authentic books.  The Supreme Court Justices hearing the oral argument saw serious problems with the textbook publisher’s argument.  Justice Breyer stated:

“[I]magine Toyota, all right? Millions sold in the United States. They have copyrighted sound systems. They have copyrighted GPS systems. When people buy them in America, they think they're going to be able to resell them…. Under their [referring to the textbook publisher] reading, the millions of Americans who buy Toyotas could not resell them without getting the permission of the copyright holder of every item in that car which is copyrighted?”

The Justices also indicated that the eBay seller’s argument – once the copyright owner has sold the textbook then the buyer has the right to resell freely – was a clean solution.  Justice Roberts said:

“Well, it's not that complicated under the Petitioner's [referring to the eBay seller] approach.  It says once you've you had a first sale, that's it.”

The Justices will now deliberate for several months before coming to a decision.  We will keep you updated with any developments in this space, and will inform you as soon as the Justices announce their decision.  If you are interested in learning more about this issue, please visit www.ownershiprights.org.  Here, you can show your support for preserving ownership rights by signing a petition designed to promote the position of the eBay seller in the Kirtsaeng v. Wiley case.