What does the SCOTUS’ Wiley v. Kirtsaeng decision mean for books, publishing?
March 21, 2013 | 12:55 pm
By Brian Howard
In what’s being heralded as a win for consumers and libraries, and a loss for publishers, the SCOTUS overturned a previous ruling against Kirtsaeng, who had been buying textbooks printed (legally) abroad—where they cost significantly less than they do in, say, the United States—and then reselling them in the U.S. on eBay and turning a handsome profit in the process.
In a statement yesterday, Wiley’s President & CEO Stephen M. Smith wrote: “We are disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided in favor of Supap Kirtsaeng and overturned the Second Circuit’s ruling. It is a loss for the U.S. economy, and students and authors in the U.S. and around the world.”
In a separate statement, the American Library Association touted the ruling as a “total victory for libraries and their users,” as had the court overturned the “first sale” doctrine—which states that after someone has purchased a copyrighted work, they are free to lend, gift, rent and resell that work—it would have had deleterious consequences for lending institutions, as well as used-book sellers: “It is especially gratifying that Justice Breyer’s majority opinion focused on the considerable harm that the Second Circuit’s opinion would have caused libraries.”
Over at Forbes, Gary Shaprio, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, who some 30 years ago was involved in a similar legal battle focused on the VCR, writes, in a opinion piece that imagines the far-reaching implications of this decision beyond publishing:
“Just as the survival of the first-sale doctrine in 1985 allowed the home video market to thrive, the Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday could have potentially significant applications beyond just textbooks or, more broadly, digital content. If the reasoning is extended to pharmaceuticals, for example, Americans would no longer be the chumps who pay the highest prices in the world simply because they’re not allowed to shop overseas where prices are lower. Buying the same drugs cheaper overseas could dramatically reduce our burdensome health care costs.”
What’s your take? Victory for consumers? Defeat for publishers? Or something a little more nuanced?