The Supreme Court decided today that they will hear the case of graduate student Supap Kirtsaeng, who was sued by a publishing company for reselling textbooks he bought in Thailand.
The final verdict in this case may have important implications in online sales of copyrighted material.
Kirtsaeng was a math graduate trying to make ends meet as he completed school by reselling textbooks friends and family purchased for him abroad. He was successfully sued by text book publisher John Wiley & Sons to the tune of $600,000 after a jury decided he infringed on the companies copyrights.
While studying at USC, Kirtsaeng arranged for family and friends to purchase textbooks for him in markets abroad, so that he could resell them in the U.S. for a profit.
The larger issue at hand is if U.S. copyright laws apply to items made abroad and then sold in the U.S. without permission of the manufacturer. A similar verdict in the case of Costco and Swiss watch manufacturer Omega ended with a 4-4 split in the high court.
Retailers engage in this kind of activity all the time. Retailers like Target, eBay and Amazon, make an estimated $63 billion on sales of items that are purchased abroad and resold in the United States without the permission of the manufacturer. This phenomenon, known as a parallel or grey market, benefits retailers and consumers in the U.S. alike, by lowering prices.
In the meantime Kirtsaeng has already returned to Thailand, after completing his post-graduate work at the University of Southern California. Only eight books sold by Kirtsaeng were published by John Wiley & Son's Asian subsidiary. How they came to the total of $600,000 dollars for a private seller is a absolute mystery. They must have been some really thorough textbooks.
Kirtsaeng sold the books through eBay, who was one of the major outside parties pushing the court to decide the case in his favor.
The case will be argued before the Supreme Court this fall.