On the EFF's Deep Links blog, Parker Higgins presents the stakes in today's Supreme Court hearing for Kirtsaeng v. Wiley, which concerns the right of a student, Supap Kirtsaeng, to import textbooks from overseas and sell them in the USA. Wiley, a textbook publisher, argues that even though the books Kirtsaeng is selling are his property, that they have the right to dictate how and whether he may pass it on. Normally, copyright is limited by "first sale" -- once a copyrighted work has been sold once, it is the new owner's property. But Wiley argues that works that are manufactured offshore (that is to say, nearly everything!) are not subject to first sale. That means that everything from lending library books to selling used CDs to selling, giving away or lending practically every kind of electronics (all of which have copyrighted software that comes from offshore) will only persist with the permission of rightsholders, who can withhold it, or charge arbitrary sums for it.
It's good that the Supreme Court is hearing Kirtsaeng this term — in fact, we joined a brief encouraging them to — but the story isn't necessarily over once the decision comes down. The next step might be for Congress to respond with legislation. If so, they need to know what consumers think: if it looks like a sale and feels like a sale, it's a sale, with all the accompanying rights and privileges. We're joining our friends at Demand Progress in giving you tools to ask your Congressmembers to defend your rights in your digital goods.
We know how vigorous the copyright industry lobby is about pushing for laws in their favor, even when they're against the public interest. It's important we let Congress know now that we want to see first sale alive and well and protecting our rights in the things we buy, even if they are digital goods and the sale is labeled a license.
If the copyright industry has its way, you may have to seek permission or face penalties when you resell or tinker with the things you've bought. And if that comes to pass, then we've all been owned.
You've Been Owned: Stand Up For Digital First Sale [EFF Action Center]
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.