Supreme Court Rules on Copyright Issue of Re-Selling Foreign Books

Yesterday, the United States  Supreme Court decided an interesting and important case for American holders of copyrighted materials that are legally sold and distributed in foreign countries. Copyright law is vital, both here in the United States and elsewhere, to financially and creatively protect the creator of an original work.

Generally speaking, these are the facts of yesterday’s ruling:  A young student from Thailand who was attending USC was evidently able to legally procure school books far cheaper in his homeland.  He had the idea of importing these books to the United States, and selling them at a profit.  The copyright holder of these books did not take kindly to this business venture, and sued the student civilly, which lead to a $600,000.00 judgment.  The student’s position was that since he legally procured the books in Thailand, they were his to resale.  The copyright holders argued that they had the exclusive right to resale books here in the United States.

I am by no means a legal expert in copyright law, but if you had asked me before the ruling to take a somewhat educated guess, I probably would have said that I found it highly improbably that such a business could be legal under copyright laws.  Obviously, a trial court found the same thing, which lead to the judgment, and the case making it up to the highest Court.

However, the Supreme Court found that the practice is legal, and that a book LEGALLY procured in a foreign country could indeed be resold here in the United States by it’s foreign buyer, as said book was owned by the buyer (obviously just the actual book, not the right to run copies).  This has not only publishing houses upset, but also the entertainment industry now wonders how this decision will affect it financially.  As stated in the L.A. Times:  “It is unclear how the movie, music or video game industries will be affected by the high court’s decision, as more entertainment content is sold digitally.

Copyright aside, there is another hidden issue here that is worth exploring:  Why is it that books can be legally sold in foreign countries for so much less than here in the United States?  I have to confess a bias, as I have sons in college, and wince when I hear about a single college book that costs $500.00!

By Scott McPherson

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About the Author:  Scott McPherson is the owner and lead attorney of all personal injury & automobile accident cases of Scott M. McPherson, P.A.  Prior to becoming a personal injury attorney, Scott was a professional Paramedic – Firefighter.  Scott now has over 18 years experience as a trial attorney representing persons injured in New Port Richey, Pasco County, and throughout the Tampa Bay area of Florida.  You can contact Scott directly at scott@suncoastlaw.com.