Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons

Posted: May 2, 2016 by beguide in case summaries, Civil Procedure, Fantasy Supreme Court League, Intellectual Property, Money Money!, Uncategorized

WHAT HAPPENED:  An intrepid young student from overseas made the insightful discovery that his textbooks were considerably cheaper back home than in America.  The student then made approximately one million dollars shipping the textbooks and keeping the profit.  The textbook provider who held the copyright on those textbooks was not happy about it and sued.  Unfortunately for the textbook provider, the Court is bound by the First Sale Doctrine, an exception to copyright law that allows the first purchaser of a product to sell at will.  The textbook provider lost the case, but not after considerable legal wrangling.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  The student, not satisfied by just making millions of dollars off the textbook, also wants the publisher to pay his attorney fees.  Generally, American Courts follow the “American Rule” on attorney fees, which says that everyone must pay their own way.  The Copyright Act allows the Court to award attorney fees, but only within the Court’s discretion.

WHAT IS THE RULING:  This case is not yet decided.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS:  Presumably an award of attorney fees in this case could make it less likely that big corporations will sue little guys for using their copyright, which is a good thing.  On the other hand, this could embolden people to continue breaching copyright law, thus resulting in less compensation for artistic endeavors, which is a bad thing.

ROOT FOR KIRTSAENG IF:  If you’ve ever bought textbooks in higher education.

ROOT FOR JOHN WILEY & SONS IF:  You miss paying for artistic things like music and TV shows.


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