UPDATE, 12:04 PM: The MPAA says that today’s Supreme Court decision “will hinder American businesses’ ability to compete overseas to the detriment of the long-term economic interests of the United States, and particularly its creative industries.” The trade group adds that it will “study the decision further before determining the most appropriate action for us to take.”
PREVIOUS, 9:55 AM: The 6-to-3 decision just handed a big defeat to the MPAA and other content providers by potentially undermining companies’ ability to charge different prices for books, CDs, DVDs, software, video games and other works in different countries. In the case, Kirtsaeng v John Wiley & Sons, entertainment companies sided with the book publisher against an entrepreneurial Thai college student studying in the U.S. Supap Kirtsaeng discovered that textbooks cost far less in Thailand than in the U.S. He turned that into a business, importing textbooks that he re-sold here for less than the publisher charged. Wiley said that violated its copyright; Kirtsaeng said it complied with the first-sale doctrine that enables people to freely re-sell content that they’ve bought. The MPAA and RIAA said in a brief supporting Wiley that extending the first-sale doctrine to works sold abroad “could impede authors’ ability to control entry into distinct markets, limit their flexibility to adapt to market conditions, or undermine territorial licensing agreements.”
But the Supreme Court overturned lower courts that sided with Wiley. The first-sale doctrine “is deeply embedded in the practices of those, such as book sellers, libraries, museums, and retailers, who have long relied upon its protection,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority. Digital activist group Public Knowledge applauded the decision saying that Wiley’s position meant that “anyone that held a garage sale or loaned a book to a friend could be in violation of copyright law.” But a dissent from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says the ruling “risks undermining the United States’ credibility on the world stage” — it “could benefit U.S. consumers but would likely disadvantage foreign holders of U. S. copyrights.”
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