Today, the U.S. Supreme Court supported consumer rights and libraries in the high-profile Kirtsaeng v. Wiley & Sons, Inc. case by ruling that goods lawfully made overseas are protected by the first sale doctrine. The Kirtsaeng case focused on whether Americans and businesses had the right to sell, lend, or give away the things they own that were made overseas.
The case centered on a graduate student, Supap Kirtsaeng, who bought textbooks published by John Wiley & Sons in Thailand and sold them online in the United States. Kirtsaeng was sued by the book publisher, who claimed that the right of first sale did not apply because the books were manufactured overseas.
The court case ruling could have greatly affected libraries, as the first sale doctrine allows libraries to lend books and other materials to the public. With this decision, the Court upheld the rights of libraries to loan materials lawfully to their patrons regardless of where those materials have been manufactured.
“We welcome the Court’s clear ruling in favor of the first sale doctrine,” said Maureen Sullivan, president of the American Library Association (ALA). “The ALA will continue to fight for Americans’ right to access information.”
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer mentioned the American Library Association in his opinion (pdf) on the case.
“The American Library Association tells us that library collections contain at least 200 million books published abroad,” said Justice Breyer. “How, the American Library Association asks, are the libraries to obtain permission to distribute these millions of books? How can they find, say, the copyright owner of a foreign book, perhaps written decades ago? Are the libraries to stop circulating or distributing or displaying the millions of books in their collections that were printed abroad?”
In anticipation of this ruling, the ALA joined the Owners Rights Initiative (ORI), a broad coalition of companies and other organizations who advocate and lobby to preserve the first sale doctrine. ALA will continue to work with ORI should any legislative action be taken against first sale under the principle that when we buy it, we can lend it.
Today, ALA with the Library Copyright Alliance, applauding the decision of the Supreme Court jointly released a statement (pdf).