Gauging Kirtsaeng reactions, and does ReDigi make it a moot point?

April 5, 2013

First Sale DoctrineIn last week’s post, I wrote about the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling in Kirstaeng v. John Wiley and Sons, which, at its core, reaffirmed that once a U.S. consumer buys a copyrighted piece of material, he or she owns that piece of material and can do what he or she likes with it.

It has been interesting to see the ways in which different trade groups and lobbying organizations have reacted to Kirstaeng.

The Library Copyright Alliance, American Library Association and Association of Researcher Libraries, for example, issued a joint statement calling the decision “a total victory” that would allow libraries to “continue lending the estimated 200 million foreign-made volumes in (their) collections.”

The decision was also cheered by a trade group that represents eBay, Goodwill Industries and Etsy.

The Association of American Publishers, however, said “the Court’s interpretation of the ‘first sale’ provision of US copyright law will discourage the active export of US copyrighted works” and will “reduce the ability of educators and students in foreign countries to have access to US-produced educational materials.”

I don’t know about that last part (any time students and education are evoked, I perceive it like an emotion-based ploy for sympathy), but publishing industry spokespeople have commented that publishers are now going to have to rethink the idea of selling books more cheaply abroad, so that overseas customers can afford them.

Ultimately, I find myself unmoved by the arguments against the Kirtsaeng decision. It’s very hard to swallow the idea that I can’t do pretty much whatever I want with a book, DVD or artwork that I paid for.

One thing that’s interesting to note, however, is that Kirstaeng dealt with physical textbooks. ReDigi, a company that aspired to create a digital marketplace for “used” media files, recently lost a case brought by Capitol Records on the grounds that ReDigi’s technology couldn’t provide assurance that people weren’t selling pirate material. ReDigi has now said it has new technology that will put those fears to rest, so it seems we’re looking at a brewing issue of how the first sale doctrine applies to digital material. Stay tuned….