On March 19, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled in a first-sale doctrine case that allows Goodwill and other companies to resell copyrighted products that were first purchased outside the United States without the copyright owner’s permission.
The six to three vote on Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., holds that the first-sale doctrine of the U.S. Copyright Act — which allows owners to resell copyrighted works that were lawfully produced and legally acquired — does not carry geographical significance and therefore extends to works first purchased overseas.
This decision protects Goodwill employees at more than 2,800 stores from checking each donated copyrighted item to ensure that it was not purchased overseas. It also protects shoppers, donors and other lawful owners from prosecution under U.S. copyright law for reselling and purchasing such works without obtaining permission from the original copyright owners. This means that if a Goodwill donor or shopper bought or owned an item, that person has the right to sell, lend or give it away.
The case involved respondent Wiley, an American textbook publisher and seller. The petitioner, Supap Kirtsaeng, is a student from Thailand who studied in the United States. Wiley alleged that Kirtsaeng was in violation of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101–810, because he sold shipments of textbooks manufactured by Wiley’s Asian subsidiary, which his family had sent from Thailand. Kirtsaeng earned $900,000 in revenue by selling the textbooks on commercial websites such as eBay to reimburse his family and pay for his education. Kirtsaeng argued that he did not violate the Copyright Act because the first-sale doctrine allows resale of textbooks without the copyright owner’s permission. Wiley argued that this was a copyright infringement because the first-sale doctrine does not apply to goods manufactured in foreign countries.
Goodwill has been involved with the Owners’ Rights Initiative (ORI) since spring of 2012. ORI is a diverse coalition of businesses, associations and organizations that joined together to protect ownership rights in the United States. The initiative provides a unified voice for members to engage in advocacy, education and outreach. Other members include the Consumer Electronics Association, eBay, New Egg, Overstock.com, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, Sotheby’s, and Target.
While the Supreme Court ruling is final, Congress may still consider legislative alternatives, which will require Goodwill’s continued engagement.
For more information on ORI, visit ownersrightsinitiative.org.
About Owners’ Rights Initiative
The Owners’ Rights Initiative (ORI) is a diverse coalition of businesses, associations and organizations that have joined together to protect ownership rights in the United States. ORI believes in the fundamental premise that if you bought it, you own it, and should have the right to sell, lend or give away your personal property. Members include: American Free Trade Association, American Association of Law Libraries, American Library Association, Association of Service and Computer Dealers International and the North American Association of Telecommunications Dealers (AscdiNatd), Association of Research Libraries, Computer and Communications Industry Association, Chegg, CXtec, eBay Inc., Etsy, Goodwill Industries International, Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), Impulse Technology, International Imaging Technology Counsel (ITC), Internet Commerce Coalition, Just Between Friends, Network Hardware Resale, Overstock.com, Inc., Powell’s Books, Quality King Distributors, Radwell International, Redbox, United Network Equipment Dealers Association (UNEDA), and XS International.