Supreme Court Holds that “First Sale” Doctrine Applies to Copies of a Copyrighted Work Lawfully Made Abroad: Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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The Supreme Court of the United States issued its much-anticipated decision in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., holding that the “first sale” doctrine protects a buyer or other lawful owner of a copy of a copyrighted work that was lawfully made abroad, following a lawful first sale. The 6-3 decision resolves a contested issue of copyright law on which the Supreme Court had been equally divided 4-4 two Terms ago. Kirtsaeng may be relied upon to protect businesses such as retailers and technology companies that regularly sell copies of foreign goods that contain copyrighted materials.

BACKGROUND -

John Wiley & Sons, Inc. is an academic textbook publisher that sells textbooks both in the United States and abroad. Each copy of its textbooks sold outside the United States contains a disclaimer that the copy may be sold only in a particular geographic region and may not be exported to the United States without permission. The contents of the American version and the foreign versions of the textbooks are essentially equivalent.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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