That’s my book . . . or is it?


Kirtsaeng v. John Wily & Sons, Inc.
Capitol Records v. Redigi, Inc.

If you are a court watcher, a librarian, or someone who thinks you own a book, DVD, or a digital file after you buy it, then the recent rulings in these two court cases had you sitting on the edge of your seat.

Never heard of them? How about the First Sale Doctrine? Have you ever sold, regifted, or donated a book, DVD, or music CD? Assuming you acquired the copy you own legally, the First Sale Doctrine allows you to do any of those things. It does not allow you to make 100 copies of the work and then sell or donate them. The copyright owner (e.g., publishing or record company) only controls the first sale of the item.

What happened? Supap Kirtsaeng, a student from Thailand, asked friends and family to send him 600 (!) copies of a textbook produced in Asia at a lower cost than the same one published in the US. After they arrived he sold them on eBay for a tidy profit. So the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, sued him claiming that the first sale doctrine does not apply to goods produced outside the U.S.


The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mr. Kirtsaeng and that is a good thing. It means that your friendly neighborhood library can loan you a book published in Europe or Asia, that you can buy a car made outside the U.S. and resell it, that a museum really can put a painting on display by Picasso, and that you can resell or give away books or other copyrighted items that you buy while studying abroad.
Now. . . how about if you own a digital music file, an mp3 or file purchased on iTunes? Can you resell it? Redigi thinks you can. Capitol Records sued Redigi, a company that manages selling digital music. Redigi actually has a seller install software that pulls files from a customer’s hard drive so they can’t even access the music they are selling once Redigi extracts it. So what’s the problem? The files aren’t really transferred. They’re copied. And a federal court ruled that the first sale doctrine doesn’t apply to copies.


Confused yet? Copyright, intellectual property, fair use, first sale doctrine, file sharing. It can get complicated. It’s your right to know and your right (and responsibility) to use your information and images ethically and legally. Know your rights! Check these sources for more information:

Electronic Frontier Foundation
Copyright Basics (U.S. Copyright Office, Library of Congress)
Columbia University Libraries Copyright Advisory Office


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