The is no doubt that the big news this week is the Supreme Court’s decision in Kirtsaeng vs. John Wiley. A number of articles have reported on the ruling but this article by Jennifer Howard in the Chronicle of Higher Education focuses on the different positions/perceptions of librarians and publishers. As Jennifer makes clear in this article, librarians and publishers are having the far different reactions to the ruling. In effect, the 6-3 decision holds that there is no geographic limitation to the “first sale” doctrine. In short, the Justices are saying that the “first sale” doctrine applies broadly and includes “copyrighted work lawfully made abroad.”
Jennifer goes on to point out the different reactions of library groups like the Library Copyright Alliance which claims that the ruling is “a total victory for libraries and our users” and that it “vindicates the foundational principle of the first-sale doctrine—if you bought it, you own it.” But the Association of American Publishers has a different take. Their response is to insist that the ruling “ignores broader issues critical to America’s ability to compete in the global marketplace.” The AAP agrees with Justice Ginsburg dissent that the ruling “was a ‘bold departure’ from Congress’s intention ‘to protect copyright owners against the unauthorized importation of low-priced, foreign-made copies of their copyrighted works’ that is made ‘more stunning’ by its conflict with current U.S. trade policy.”
After reading this article, one has to wonder if this is just the opening salvo as publishers and librarians begin lobbying Congress to address the issues raised by the ruling. Stay tuned!
(For a primer on the background of the case, check out the video of the 2012 Charleston Conference plenary session “The Long Arm of the Law.” Here, Bill Hannay discusses the case beginning at the 32:10 minute mark.)