by Benjamin Hamborg, UMN Law Student, MJLST Articles Editor
As predicted inJohn Wiley & Sons, Inc. v. Kirtsaeng: The Uncertain Future of the First-Sale Doctrine, the Supreme Court last month held, by a 6-3 margin, that the first sale doctrine does apply to works lawfully made outside of the United States. The first sale doctrine, which allows the lawful owner of a copyrighted work to dispose of that copy as he or she sees fit, was in danger of disappearing as applied to works manufactured overseas after the Second Circuit decided in August of 2011 that the doctrine only applied to works made in America.
Hailed by many as a victory for American consumers, See Gary Shapiro, Supreme Court Gives American Consumers Victory Over Copyright Owners in Kirtsaeng vs. John Wiley & Sons, FORBES (March 20, 2013, 9:16 AM), the decision also represents an important victory for American manufacturing. A decision to the contrary by the Supreme Court would have given companies in the United States, particularly publishing companies, an incentive to move manufacturing plants oversees in order to gain unlimited control over the resale of their products. In fact, any company would have been able to gain such control simply by affixing a copyrightable image or other work to an uncopyrightable product, such as a watch. Of course, as pointed out in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, it remains to be seen whether this decision has a negative impact on the rest of the world, as publishers now have a disincentive to sell textbooks at a discounted rate in impoverished countries. See Roy Zwahlen, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, PATENTLY BIOTECH (March 26, 2013).