back to article First sale doctrine survives US Supreme Court

Dead tree books have kept one of their few advantages over e-books, with the US Supreme Court upholding the first sale doctrine, which states that the publisher's exclusivity over a book ends with its purchase. The case was brought by John Wiley & Sons against Thai student Supap Kirtsaeng, who had noticed that textbooks in his …


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  1. Gert Leboski

    Do my eyes deceive me?

    Is this... Surely not?

    Is this some common sense being used in a U.S court, dealing with a copyright case?


    1. Maverick
      Thumb Up

      Re: Do my eyes deceive me?

      probably they do

      I predict years of expensive court room battles over this, after all that's the American dream in the 21c isn't it?

      1. toadwarrior

        Re: Do my eyes deceive me?

        They'll just licence everything including loo roll and then you lose your rights for a cheaper cost to them.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Do my eyes deceive me?

        "I predict years of expensive court room battles over this, after all that's the American dream in the 21c isn't it?"

        In which court rooms? The supremer court? The fajita supreme with cheese court? Tennis court?

        El Reg: Where an article discussing an eminently sensible decision by the supreme court results in comments from people implying that the decision will be overturned, and mocking Americans on that basis.

      3. Persona non grata

        Re: Do my eyes deceive me?

        It's the Supreme Court - the name is a hint. There can be no appeals, this is over and decided.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Overturning a Supreme Court ruling

          For regular people like us when the Supreme Court rules, it is over and decided. For deep pocketed companies it just means they need to spend more money if they want the ruling overturned. They need get out that checkbook and buy themselves a few congressmen!

          So long as a decision isn't based on a constitutional issue, and this one isn't, overturning it is as simple as getting a new law passed. DMCA anyone?

          1. Snake Silver badge

            Re: Overturning a Supreme Court ruling

            Boy do I hate agreeing with that sentiment...but I have to, because it is rather true.

            What does this tell you? When you pray to money as King, and grant the greatest associations that trade in this asset (corporations) the equivalent power of an individual in a constitutional society...your individual rights are, inevitably, doomed. An individual cannot have the strength to fight a large political construct and their money - a direct inversion of what the Constitution was designed to protect against.

        2. GBE

          Re: Do my eyes deceive me?

          > It's the Supreme Court - the name is a hint. There can be no appeals, this is

          > over and decided.

          While this particular case cannot be appealed, the USSC can reverse its previous decisions (though they are rather averse to doing so). It's well within the law for a publisher (even the same publisher) to file a similar (or even identical) case next week. It will undoubtedly lose. They can then appeal _that_ case all the way up to the Supreme Court. [Here comes the tricky bit.] The SC can then agree to hear that case (even though it's identical to the one they just decided) and issue a decision that's the complete opposite of the one they just handed down.

          The odds of that last tricky bit actually happening are vanishingly small, but if you've got the money and the sheer bloody-mindedness you can make it happen all the way up to the point where the SC declines to hear your appeal.

          The more usual process is to donate large amounts of money to presidential and senatorial campains in hopes that any supreme count seats that become empty in the future get filled with judges more amenable to your arugments. After that

          happens, _then_ you try again.

    2. Rampant Spaniel

      Re: Do my eyes deceive me?

      As long as he is paying all applicable taxes \ duty then good on him. I'm ****ing sick of paying over the odds whilst other countries pay far less simply because they have less money. I can vaguely understand limited subsidies on medicine but if you basically charge westerners disproportionately more than developing nations for goods, expect someone to exploit that. Hence the UK being full of coke cans from random countries, it's cheaper to buy a truckload of coke in a developing country and import them than buy direct.

      Truly a great day to see some common sense in a court!

      1. James Micallef Silver badge

        Re: Do my eyes deceive me?

        Same thing with DVD regions. The only point of them is to be able to charge more in rich countries. If they sell a textbook in a developing country for $10, that means they are making money off it, they certainly aren't selling it at a loss. So when they charge $50 for the same book in a developed nation, it's not that they're being charitable with the developing countries, it's that they're ripping off the developed countries.

        1. Paul A. Clayton

          Pricing is not so simple

          Even books have a substantial amount of Non-Recurring Expenses--e.g., editing, typesetting, even to some extent marketing--associated with their production and sale. Publishers must also cover costs associated with unexpectedly unpopular products (much as pharmaceutical companies must pay for research that turns out to be unprofitable). If a flat price was charged, the sales volume would be lower, the mean price would be higher and many would be unable to justify the expense of purchase. (In addition, at lower volume some efficiencies of production and distribution would be lost.)

          I am not suggesting that publishers are efficient (i.e., that costs could not be lower) or willing to sacrifice profit for the common good (i.e., that prices could not be lower) but that pricing is not simple and selling just above incremental costs in some markets can be beneficial to all.

          On an emotional level, artificial market segmentation seems wrong, but the economics are *not* simple.

    3. peter 45

      Re: Do my eyes deceive me?

      '...common sense...'

      Yeh, but only on a 6-3 majority ruling, showing that it is not really that common.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Grrr. If consumers truly communicated with each other, they would be able to boycott software and digital content until it was sold inferring the same end-user rights as physical objects and media. It is the job of the state to protect the sheep from the wolves - or at least act as the collective voice of the people- and they don't seem to be doing their job.

    Now, if television has taught me anything.... [Simpsons' guide to passing a bill, Veep, House of Cards, The Daily Show]

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Big Brother

      No, it is the job of the state to keep the wolves hidden from the sheep.

      Property rights enforcement can be done privately, too.

  3. PyLETS

    They couldn't really decide otherwise.

    If they had, copyright preventing resale could probably be made to apply to just about anything other than books, e.g. cars as well. Sorry, that car you bought 2 years ago, Ford has a copyright on its design - it'll have to be crushed if you don't want to continue to use it yourself.

  4. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge


    Three apples are rotten.


    1. Eddy Ito

      Re: Clearly...

      It's actually an interesting mix across "party" lines in favor and even the dissent was split as it included the often swing vote of Kennedy. I do find it interesting that the dissent did consist of the three eldest even if I can't pin a logical reason behind it. I'm not clear on how the dissent seems to feel this decision undermines copyright by removing the strategy of being able to engage in price discrimination by geographical region even though the world is made trivially small by modern shipping, transportation and electronic data exchange.

      Perhaps they would be Ok with charging people who drive small cars more money for fuel because they use less of it or simply make owners of 'silver' cars pay more because there are more cars of that color than others and so 'silver' cars use more fuel in an odd twist of supply and demand. Oh, you probably meant a different kind of gas, err, petrol, sorry.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    it's about time the global market worked for the customers as well as the megacorps

    by all means offshore your jobs to India and China, but don't then whinge when I buy cheap goods from there

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: it's about time the global market worked for the customers as well as the megacorps

      governments and corporations are all about offshoring jobs and bringing in people who'll work more cheaply than we will. So, our incomes have basically stagnated since the 80s. They sure don't like it when we try to find their products for less than they want to charge for it in the EU or NA.

  6. Mage

    Yet in Ireland

    A man selling Legally purchased US Clothes had his stock confiscated as the Maker's Agents had not imported them but the man imported them himself.

    Currently big companies in US appear to be able to control who imports to EU and set EU price. This seems unreasonable.

    1. P. Lee

      Re: Yet in Ireland

      Indeed, but it is an EU failing rather than a US one.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yet in Ireland

        And the argument in that case related to trademarks rather than copyrights? I'm not sure, but there was a case involving "grey" imports of clothing - Levi's jeans sold by Tesco or something like that - where trademark law was used to prevent a free market from operating.

        So, is there a risk that the US book publishers will use trademark law to prevent their books from being imported into the US?

        1. Mage

          Re: Yet in Ireland

          The Levis case was similar but earlier. This was more upmarket clothes.

  7. The Nazz

    IANAL, or indeed a Judge, but it seems simple to me,

    the guy hasn't copied anything, at all, he has merely moved legally purchased books from A to B.

    I suspect eBay wouldn't have been too happy with a contrary result either..

  8. The Nazz

    On a side note ....

    any sign yet of the Ant-I(gua)Tunes up and running yet?

  9. Bob 18
    Thumb Up

    Long Live Dead Trees!

    This is why I buy dead tree books and DVDs.

    1. Thorne

      Re: Long Live Dead Trees!

      This is why I pirate.....

  10. Winkypop Silver badge

    Possesion is 9 tenths of the law

    If you don't hold a physical copy, you're not doing it right.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Possesion is 9 tenths of the law

      That's why I always print these comment threads before I read them.

      Replying is a real pain in the ass, though.

  11. James Micallef Silver badge

    Other way round

    "Wiley had put forward an altruistic argument to support its right to enforce geographical rights over its books: without a decision in its favour, it would be unable to supply cheap books to developing countries"

    What they really mean is, they would be unable to overcharge for their books in developed countries.

    1. davtom
      Thumb Down

      Re: Other way round

      Unfortunately, no. What they really mean is they would be *unwilling* to supply cheap books to developing countries.

  12. JaitcH

    John Wiley & Sons doesn't do 'altruism'

    How can John Wiley & Sons print a book in the USA; ship to VietNam and give the book wholesalers/retailers a 30% cut if they aren't making a profit?

    Since the books hereabouts have John Wiley & Sons Printed in the USA on the inner cover, we must presume they have been imported.

    Seem that V-P Joe Biden has let his IP hustlers down again, along with A-G Holder. Good news for students!

  13. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    The last that I heard,

    Magazines, at least, were printed in Canada because that was cheaper. Having said that, I think Canada is in a sort of international trade whatsit with the U.S., and these were magazines printed -for- the U.S. publisher. Anyway, there was a lot of snow, and you didn't get your magazines in the U.S. for a while. Come to think, that also stands against the regular complaint that the United Kingdom doesn't deal with snow or other bad weather conditions as well as other countries do. Mother Nature can ruin -anybody's- day, week, month, or decade. I was about to say "At least we don't have volcanoes" but there was that one in Iceland that blew ash all over Europe.

  14. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

    Cunning linguistic difficulties

    “The geographical interpretation bristles with linguistic difficulties … Indeed, §602(a)(2) makes foreign-printed pirated copies subject to the Copyright Act.”

    An error in drafting the law????? Whadathink?

    1. Gannon (J.) Dick

      Re: Cunning linguistic difficulties

      So according to the Legal Profession, if all the rest of us would just speak clearly, centuries of confusion would come to an abrupt end.

      I had no idea.

      I'm so ashamed.

      Maybe if I tip a pint I'll talk like a Lawyer. Mind you I don't want to, but if we poor lost souls can help those who have lost soul's for Professional Reasons it would be inhuman to ignore their plight.

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