On March 19th, the Supreme Court virtually eliminated the ability of copyright owners to stop the importation of versions of their products intended for foreign markets. This holding has potentially broad implications in an era where U.S. copyright owners increasingly rely on global markets to commercialize America's publications and creative products.
In a 6-to-3 decision, the court held for Supap Kirtsaeng, a Cornell student from Thailand who made nearly a million dollars re-selling cheap international student versions of textbooks meant for sale in Thailand. Wiley, the publisher, produced the books abroad for sale to poor students in Thailand. The publisher argued that Kirtsaeng infringed copyright by making unauthorized imports of the books.
Publishers and content owners of all kinds have long engaged in this kind of market segmentation. It allows them to sell their products at the right price and at the best time, expanding their markets to countries other than the United States. They had long relied on an interpretation of the Copyright Act that provided for a broad importation right.
The Court held that copyright's first sale doctrine trumps the importation right. The question now is what happens next? Can and should copyright owners press for new, clearer legislation to restore the importation right? Will copyright owners be driven to new methods of distribution -- e.g., more sales of digital books? How will this holding affect access to knowledge in less wealthy countries? What are the implications of the the majority opinion's broad statements about copyright's purpose?
- Mr. Allan R. Adler, General Counsel & Vice President, Government Affairs, Association of American Publishers
- Prof. Christopher Newman, George Mason University School of Law
- Prof. Kristen J. Osenga, University of Richmond School of Law
- Mr. Ben Sheffner, Vice President, Legal Affairs, Motion Picture Association of America
- Moderator: Prof. Mark F. Schultz, Co-Director of Academic Programs and Senior Scholar of the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property and Professor of Law, Southern Illinois University School of Law
- Introduction: Mr. Dean A. Reuter, Vice President & Director of Practice Groups, The Federalist Society