Mark Gritter (markgritter) wrote,
Mark Gritter

First-Sale Doctrine applies to imports too

The Supreme Court had an interesting 6-3 split (Ginsburg, Kennedy, and Scalia dissenting) on its decision that the First Sale doctrine applied to books published outside the U.S. and brought back in. Copyright law cannot be used to prohibit import and resale of cheap textbooks from foreign countries. (As the dissenters pointed out, such a ruling neuters the "import" monopoly granted in law.) But media coverage has, as usual, been pretty shallow about explaining why publishers don't want to allow this practice. This Ars Technica piece, for example:

But while price discrimination is certainly lauded by the companies that rely on it, it's not at all clear that having courts perpetuate such pricing schemes benefits anyone beyond shareholders of those companies.

Ignore the economic-theory arguments about goods that need price discrimination to get produced at all, isn't it obvious that the students who get lower-priced books benefit?!

Were I ruling I'd probably side with the majority here... but I do now work in an industry dominated by price-discrimination through the use of high list prices (compared to street prices). It is also worth taking some care to preserve the right of authors to sell foreign publishing right separately, rather than providing a loophole where North American rights are converted to global English rights by the expedient of "selling" books to a subsidiary.
Tags: copyright, economics, law
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