KIRTSAENG V. WILEY & SONS
Court: U.S. Supreme Court
Term: October 2012
Oral Argument: October 2012
Opinion: Justice Breyer
Lower Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Under § 602(a)(1) of the Copyright Act, it is impermissible to import a work "without the authority of the owner" of the copyright. But the first-sale doctrine, codified at § 109(a), allows the owner of a copy "lawfully made under this title" to sell or otherwise dispose of the copy without the copyright owner's permission.
The question presented is how these provisions apply to a copy that was made and legally acquired abroad and then imported into the United States. Can such a foreign-made product never be resold within the United States without the copyright owner's permission, as the Second Circuit held in this case? Can such a foreign-made product sometimes be resold within the United States without permission, but only after the owner approves an earlier sale in this country, as the Ninth Circuit held in Costco? Or can such a product always be resold without permission within the United States, so long as the copyright owner authorized the first sale abroad, as the Third Circuit has indicated?
In response to briefs filed by the RLC and others, the Supreme Court agreed to hear this case regarding the first sale doctrine. The RLC subsequently filed a brief on the merits asking the Court to recognize that the doctrine applied to goods lawfully manufactured outside of the United States pursuant to U.S. copyright law.
The Court held that the statutory language favored the ability of downstream owners of lawfully made products to sell or otherwise dispose of them without interference from the copyright holder.
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