Parker Higgins has an article on the EFF blog about today’s Supreme Court hearing for Kirtsaeng v. Wiley.
Never heard of it? This is a case concerning the right of a student, Supap Kirtsaeng, to buy textbooks overseas and sell them in the USA. Wiley, a textbook publisher, argues that even though the books Kirtsaeng is selling are his property, that they have the right to dictate how and whether he may pass it on.
“First sale” is a standard exception to US copyright law that says once a copyrighted work has been sold to a buyer, it is the new owner’s property. Wiley is arguing that works that are manufactured offshore are not subject to first sale. That would mean not only that selling used DVDs would require permission from the manufacturer, but also selling, giving away or lending practically any kind of electronics, since they almost universally contain firmware created overseas. Your right to sell your used equipment would require the permission of rightsholders, who can withhold it, or charge whatever they like to let you do what has been a right of yours up to now.
It’s good that the Supreme Court is hearing Kirtsaeng this term — in fact, we joined a brief encouraging them to — but the story isn’t necessarily over once the decision comes down. The next step might be for Congress to respond with legislation. If so, they need to know what consumers think: if it looks like a sale and feels like a sale, it’s a sale, with all the accompanying rights and privileges. We’re joining our friends at Demand Progress in giving you tools to ask your Congressmembers to defend your rights in your digital goods.
We know how vigorous the copyright industry lobby is about pushing for laws in their favor, even when they’re against the public interest. It’s important we let Congress know now that we want to see first sale alive and well and protecting our rights in the things we buy, even if they are digital goods and the sale is labeled a license.
If the copyright industry has its way, you may have to seek permission or face penalties when you resell or tinker with the things you’ve bought. And if that comes to pass, then we’ve all been owned.
This is a serious threat, on a par with SOPA/PIPA, If you live in the US I would urge you to take action!