Supreme Court Considering Whether Or Not It’s Legal To Re-Sell Your Stuff
From garage sales and thrift stores to eBay and Craigslist, re-selling used stuff is a huge industry. In fact, in the internet age, I think it’s something that has made our economy more resilient. The internet market for used stuff has made said stuff more valuable. Never before has stuff we don’t want or need any more been more valuable, if only because it’s cheap to market it to a big potential market for re-selling it.
But now the Supreme Court has before it a case that questions whether or not re-selling some of that stuff is legal:
At issue in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons is the first-sale doctrine in copyright law, which allows you to buy and then sell things like electronics, books, artwork and furniture, as well as CDs and DVDs, without getting permission from the copyright holder of those products.
Under the doctrine, which the Supreme Court has recognized since 1908, you can resell your stuff without worry because the copyright holder only had control over the first sale.
Put simply, though Apple Inc. AAPL +0.26% has the copyright on the iPhone and Mark Owen has it on the book “No Easy Day,” you can still sell your copies to whomever you please whenever you want without retribution.
That’s being challenged now for products that are made abroad, and if the Supreme Court upholds an appellate court ruling, it would mean that the copyright holders of anything you own that has been made in China, Japan or Europe, for example, would have to give you permission to sell it.
“It means that it’s harder for consumers to buy used products and harder for them to sell them,” said Jonathan Band, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries and the Association for Research Libraries. “This has huge consumer impact on all consumer groups.”
Earlier this year my wife and I decided to buy ourselves tablets. She wanted an iPad, I wanted the Google Nexus 7. In order to make room for these purchases in our budget, we sold some old gadgets we weren’t using any more online. Had we not been able to do that, we probably wouldn’t have bought our new gadgets.
I think that’s how a lot of consumers operate these days, offsetting the cost of new purchases by selling off old purchases, but if the market for selling off old stuff is eliminated or even just greatly diminished…well, the economic implications are enormous.
This case actually originates with a college student from Taiwan who, noticing that John Wiley & Sons were selling textbooks in his home country for a lot less than here in the United States, had his family buy up textbooks there for sale here. He eventually made some serious bank on this deal – $1.2 million – but Wiley objected invoking copyrights. Wiley counted with the first-sale doctrine, but a lower court held that the doctrine only applies to American-made goods sold in America.
Which would mean that pawnshops and online sellers around the nation are potentially violating copyright laws by selling used foreign-made goods.
If the Supreme Court upholds the lower court’s rather broad ruling on this issue it could mean a very, very different American economy.Tags: Economy, first sale doctrine, garage sales, pawn shops