Kirtsaeng Wins!

We told you in November about freedom fighter Supap Kirtsaeng.  He made a tidy profit reselling international edtions of textbooks on eBay.  Since they are sold in his home country of Thailand for much cheaper than even the used price here in the US, he was able to make big bucks while saving students equally big bucks.

Not surprisingly, the publishers took umbrage and went after Kirtsaeng in the courts.  Here things get muddled.  On the one hand, the publishers said that by buying an international edition you were agreeing to their stated policy that the books wouldn’t be sold in the US.  on the other hand, US law has a policy of “first sale”: once you buy something, it’s yours to do with as you like and the seller doesn’t have any say in it*.

It went all the way to the Supreme Court and they just announced their ruling.  From Justice Breyer writes for the majority:

…we ask whether the “first sale” doctrine applies to protect a buyer or other lawful owner of a copy (of a copyrighted work) lawfully manufactured abroad. Can that buyer bring that copy into the United States (and sell it or give it away) without obtaining permission to do so from the copyright owner? Can, for example, someone who purchases, say at a used bookstore, a book printed abroad subsequently resell it without the copyright owner’s permission?

In our view, the answers to these questions are, yes.

— From the Supreme Court’s ruling

You can read further details in this article at


Hmmm, maybe I should look for an international edition for my next class!

* “But wait, what about computer software?  Does this mean I can sell my Apple software?”  Nope.  Software (exactly to avoid the “first sale” rule) is not “sold”.  You usually buy a license to use the software, but don’t actually own the software.  Tricky software people!