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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