Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Docket Number: 11-697
Judge: Stephen G. Breyer
Opinion Date: March 19, 2013

Wiley, an academic publisher, often assigns to its foreign subsidiary (WileyAsia) rights to publish, print, and sell Wiley’s English language textbooks abroad. WileyAsia’s books state that they are not to be taken (without permission) into the U.S. When Kirtsaeng moved to the U.S., he asked friends to buy foreign edition English-language textbooks in Thai book shops, where they sold at low prices, and mail them to him. He sold the books at a profit. Wiley claimed that Kirtsaeng’s unauthorized importation and resale was an infringement of Wiley’s 17 U.S.C. 106(3) exclusive rights to distribute its copyrighted work and section 602’s import prohibition. Kirtsaeng cited section 109(a)’s “first sale” doctrine, which provides that “the owner of a particular copy or phonorecord lawfully made under this title … is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord.” The district court held that the defense did not apply to goods manufactured abroad. The jury found that Kirtsaeng had willfully infringed Wiley’s American copyrights and assessed damages. The Second Circuit affirmed, concluding that section 109(a)’s “lawfully made under this title” language indicated that the “first sale” doctrine does not apply to copies of American copyrighted works manufactured abroad. The Supreme Court reversed; the “first sale” doctrine applies to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad. Section 109(a) says nothing about geography. A geographical interpretation of the first-sale doctrine could re¬quire libraries to obtain permission before circulating the many books in their collections that were printed overseas; potential practical problems are too serious, extensive, and likely to come about to be dismissed as insignificant—particularly in light of the ever-growing importance of foreign trade to America. View “Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.” on Justia Law