Monday, April 1, 2013

Are we now a step closer to an open source knowledge economy?

The so-called "right of first sale" doctrine invoked by the US Supreme Court in 1984 to protect Sony's Betamax recording equipment - which failed in the market but gave rise to VHS, Blockbuster, Netflix and Redbox - has, apparently, been extended to the publishing industry.  In John Wiley & Sons v. Kirtsaeng the court ruled the right of first sale doctrine allowed Mr. Kirtsaeng to purchase textbooks in Thailand at low prices and resell them at a profit to US college students.

The ruling has profound implications for copyright holders globally - the doctrine has been applied in German courts as well - and is good news for consumers.  Copyright holders, especially software vendors, should pay close attention to fallout from the ruling as their products might be subjected to the doctrine next.

Below are excerpts from a NYT story and a link to the full article.  Interesting times.

In a 6-to-3 decision, the court took sides with Supap Kirtsaeng, a Thai math student at Cornell who generated roughly $900,000 in revenue reselling in the United States cheap textbooks that his friends and relatives sent from Thailand. 
John Wiley & Sons had argued that Mr. Kirtsaeng was infringing on its copyright by importing the books without permission. The publisher said this short-circuited its ability to segment markets by price — selling the books more expensively to American students than to poorer Thai students who could otherwise not afford them. 
But the court held that the publisher’s right to ban imports was trumped by Mr. Kirtsaeng’s right of first sale. He might not be allowed to make unauthorized copies of the books. But as with old library books or secondhand Gucci bags at a flea market, if the books had been bought legally, whether imported or sold originally in the United States, Mr. Kirtsaeng could sell them.

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