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Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: March 19, 2013
Case #: 11-697
Breyer, J., delivered the Court's opinion, which Roberts, C.J., and Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Kagan, J., filed a concurring opinion which Alito, J., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed a dissenting opinion which Kennedy, J., joined, and which Scalia, J., joined except as to Parts III and V–B–1.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/11-697_d1o2.pdf

Copyright: The Copyright Act's "first sale" doctrine permits resale of foreign works legally manufactured and legitimately acquired abroad and imported to the United States without requiring the copyright holder's permission.

Petitioner purchased foreign manufactured textbooks abroad, imported them to the U.S. and resold them at a profit without the copyright holder’s permission. The textbook publisher brought suit against Petitioner for infringement of the exclusive right to distribute under 17 U.S.C. §§106(3) and 602(a)(1). Petitioner argued that his actions were lawful under the Copyright Act’s “first sale” provision (17 U.S.C. §109(a)). The district court determined that the “first sale” doctrine does not apply to “foreign-manufactured goods” and could not be used by Petitioner as a defense to the copyright infringement claim.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling, and, relying on the Supreme Court’s dicta in Quality King Distributors, Inc. v. L’Anza Research Int’l, Inc., 523 U.S. 135 (1998), interpreted the §109(a) phrase: “lawfully made under this title” as only applicable to domestic works manufactured in the U.S.

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The Court reasoned that the context, simple language and common law history of the first sale doctrine does not support the lower courts’ geographic interpretation of §109(a), and held that the “first sale” doctrine applies to lawfully manufactured foreign works legitimately acquired abroad, because "lawfully made" means in accordance with the Copyright Act and "under this title" means under the standards of the Act.