March 27, 2013
On March 19, 2013, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. This case concerns the “first-sale doctrine” in copyright law, which allows a buyer of copyrighted material to sell or otherwise dispose of the copy he or she purchased without the consent of the original owner. The question here was how the “first sale doctrine” should apply to materials that were made and legally acquired abroad, and then imported to the United States--because importation generally is not allowed except by authority of the owner of the copyright.
In an opinion delivered by Justice Breyer, the Court held by a vote of 6-3 that the “first-sale” doctrine does apply to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor and Kagan joined the majority opinion. Justice Kagan filed a concurring opinion, which was joined by Justice Alito. Justice Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justice Kennedy, and by Justice Scalia in all except Parts III and V–B–1.
To discuss the case, we have Kristen Osenga, who is a Professor of Law at the University of Richmond School of Law.