In Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons the court ruled that copyright law doesn’t stop the resale of works legally purchased overseas. The case related to an individual buying textbooks overseas and reselling them on eBay. The court overturned a ruling by the 2nd Circuit which upheld the practice called price discrimination.
Consumers in the U.S. are used to price discrimination, where companies charge different prices for the exact same product in different countries. It’s most common in the pharmaceutical industry where U.S. consumers are frequently paying much more for the same medications sold for much less overseas.
The ruling does nothing to address the most common price discrimination consumers experience, which are software and digital entertainment. The ruling does not prevent region coding of digital media and does not address the lack of a First Sale doctrine for software or digital media files.
In a separate ruling the court refused to hear the appeal of a woman fined $222,000 for downloading 24 songs illegally. In a statement the court said:
“An award of statutory damages under the Copyright Act does not simply redress a private injury, but also serves to vindicate an important public interest….That public interest cannot be realized if the inherent difficulty of proving actual damages leaves the copyright holder without an effective remedy for infringement or precludes an effective means of deterring further copyright violations.”
The Obama administration filed a brief in support of RIAA in the case, which has been winding its way through the courts since 2007.
The First Sale win is likely to be short-lived for consumers and big business continues to find new ways to try and squeeze more and more out of consumers for the same products. The money and odds are in their favor.