Tuesday, 9 October 2012

US ruling may spell the end for many online stores

A case due to get underway with oral arguments on October 29th in the United States could have significant ramifications not only for sellers in America, but all online stores worldwide.  

Kirtsaeng v. Wiley came about when student Supap Kirtsaeng decided to buy foreign editions of textbooks abroad and bring them back to the US in order to sell them to college students. However, this seemingly breached a law set in 1978, that has been in place to protect publishers, such as Wiley & Sons, by barring unauthorised importation from abroad when the sale price is different from that in the United States.

Supap Kirtsaeng's defence against this law is that although the book itself does have copyright laws, once Supap purchased the book, he became the lawful owner of the book under the "First Sale Doctrine." This means that in his eyes he should be able to freely do what he likes with the book, such as sell it, because when he purchased the book, the copyright law no longer applied. However, this argument was dismissed by the second circuit who ruled that this only applied to goods that were manufactured in the US.

If the supreme court judge, agrees with the second circuit ruling and decides to come down in the favour of Wiley & Sons, it will mean that eBay stores, Amazon stores and any other online sellers will be unable to sell copyrighted material, as they will be in breach of these copyright laws. While this legal action is based on a publication, the decision could most likely spell the end of being able to sell not just books, but all copyrighted material such as films, music. As ecommerce shopping is now bigger than ever with a number of different online stores selling a whole host of different products, the removal of the first sale doctrine could seemingly cripple this sales platform with many online sellers unable to sell products that were manufactured abroad to customers in the US.

However, the biggest hit within the US will be the library system as it will unable to loan out books that were printed abroad due the fact they would first need to obtain permission to do so from the copyright holder. 

While it will most likely be months before a decision is made, should the judge rule in favour of John Wiley & Sons, it is seemingly going to be a nervous wait for many ecommerce stores who may be put out of business by the ruling.  

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