On 23 October 2012 a diverse coalition of retailers, libraries, educators, internet companies and associations joined together to launch the Owners’ Rights Initiative (ORI) to protect ownership rights in the United States. ORI is committed to ensuring the right to resell genuine goods, regardless of where they were manufactured. ORI believes that this right is critical to commerce and will engage in advocacy, education and outreach on this important issue.
“The sudden erosion of ownership rights is becoming an alarming trend in the United States due to recent federal court decisions. Our position is simple: if you bought it, you own it, and you can resell it, rent it, lend it or donate it, and we believe the American people fundamentally agree. ORI will serve as a powerful voice to advocate for ownership rights while educating consumers, businesses and policymakers about this critical cause,” said ORI Executive Director Andrew Shore.
For over 100 years in the United States, if you bought something, you owned it and could resell it. Once the copyright owner makes the first sale, the right of ownership, and therefore the right to distribute, is transferred to the purchaser– a common law right referred to as the ‘first sale doctrine.’ Today, the ORI believes that this fundamental ownership right is at issue in the Kirtsaeng vs. Wiley case, which was argued before the Supreme Court on 29 October 2012.
The case centres on a graduate student, Supap Kirtsaeng, who bought authentic textbooks – published by John Wiley & Sons – through friends and family in Thailand and sold them online in the United States. According to The Huffington Post, “Kirtsaeng used eBay to sell USD900,000 worth of books published abroad by Wiley and others and made about USD100,000 in profit. The international editions of the textbooks were essentially the same as the more costly American editions.” Kirtsaeng was sued by the book publisher, who claimed that the right of first sale did not apply because the books were manufactured overseas, and he was therefore not authorized to sell the books. A jury in New York awarded Wiley USD600,000 after deciding Kirtsaeng sold copies of eight Wiley textbooks without permission.
A Supreme Court decision against Kirtsaeng would have implications for organizations that lend copyrighted goods, including libraries and companies like Redbox, which rents movies. “Anyone who has ever borrowed books or other materials should be paying attention to this case,” said Corey Williams, associate director of government relations from the American Library Association. “Libraries rely on the protections of the first sale doctrine in order to lend books. It is critically important for the Supreme Court to recognize the impact this case could have on libraries and the public that they serve.” A decision is expected by June. The case is Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, 11-697. Read the full statement of the Owners’ Rights Initiative here: http://ownersrightsinitiative.org/
(ACCESS 83, December 2012)