US Supreme Court Finds No Infringement in Resale of Copyrighted Goods Lawfully-Made Abroad


On 19 March 2013, the US Supreme Court issued a landmark decision on Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., which, reversing lower court rulings, found no copyright infringement in importing and reselling copies in the US of copyrighted goods lawfully-made and purchased abroad.
The petitioner of the case Supap Kirtsaeng was accused of infringing the rights in distribution and importation of academic textbooks owned by the respondent John Wiley & Sons, a global publishing company, when Kirtsaeng arranged for importation of cheaper versions of Maths textbooks from his homeland Thailand and resold them for profit in the US during his university studies there. 
Kirtsaeng asserted he had not violated the US copyright law under the protection of the first-sale doctrine, which states that the interest of the rights owner in a copyrighted work is exhausted once the work is lawfully sold, whereas Wiley claimed that the doctrine does not apply to goods produced in foreign countries.
The supreme court ruling affirms the applicability of the first sale doctrine outside the US, and relieves the libraries, museums, and galleries in the US of potential allegations of infringement in importing and circulating copyrighted materials produced abroad. On the other hand, it is expected to be consequential on markets of other parallel imports such as pharmaceuticals, computer software, and electronic products, thus foretelling fights over interests between the copyright owners and the users in a global marketplace.