March 20, 2013 7:02 pm

Publishers challenge book resale ruling

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US publishers are poised to take their battle to stop books bought abroad being resold in the US to Congress, after the Supreme Court ruled against them in a case that will have broad implications for global commerce.

In the case of Kirtsaeng v Wiley, the court ruled in favour of Supap Kirtsaeng, a California student who asked his family in Thailand to buy textbooks for him at low international prices so he could resell them at a profit on eBay.

Shares in educational publishing companies fell slightly in the wake of the decision, as analysts warned that the grey market for textbooks could affect up to 50 per cent of a publisher’s educational business.

Tom Allen, president and chief executive of the Association of American Publishers, said his group was prepared to defend publishers’ rights in any legislative action pursued by lawmakers in Congress.

“[The] copyright decision by the US Supreme Court ignores broader issues critical to America’s ability to compete in the global marketplace,” he said in a statement.

John Wiley & Sons, the New York-based publishing house that owned several of the titles Mr Kirtsaeng resold, argued in court that the online sales violated international copyright laws and undercut publishers’ ability to set lower prices for books sold in foreign markets.

But the court decided that the “first sale doctrine” of US copyright law applies to goods manufactured abroad, allowing the owners of those goods to resell them in the US without permission of the copyright owner.

Stephen Smith, chief executive of Wiley, said he was disappointed by the ruling, adding: “It is a loss for the US economy, and students and authors in the US and around the world.”

It is a loss for the US economy, and students and authors in the US and around the world

- Stephen Smith, Wiley chief executive

Retail and ecommerce companies that resell or facilitate the sale of international goods in the US were pleased with the court’s decision, but acknowledged the debate was likely to continue.

Andrew Shore, executive director of the Owners’ Rights Initiative, a coalition of libraries and online companies including eBay and Etsy, said the decision recognised how international commerce was changing in a computer age.

“You have a court that now understands that global commerce isn’t just about big companies putting goods in megaton containers and sending them across the ocean,” he said. “It’s a guy sitting in his pyjamas selling his book collection to someone in Japan.”

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