The Supreme Court Could End Your Right to Resell Your Old iPhone

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could dramatically restrict your right to sell your own possessions.

The case, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, challenges the century-old “first sale doctrine” that recognizes the right to buy and then resell things like books and artwork, as well as electronics, CDs and DVDs, without needing the prior consent of the products’ copyright holder.  If the Supreme Court upholds a lower court decision, it could become illegal to resell in the U.S. any item made overseas without the permission of the copyright holder.

The case involves a Thai student, Supap Kirtsaeng, who came to America for college in 1997 and saw that his textbooks (published by John Wiley & Sons) were much more expensive in the U.S. than they were in Thailand.  He began importing textbooks and selling them on eBay, making an estimated $1.2 million in the process.

The publishing company sued to halt the business, but Kirtsaeng claimed his operation was protected under the first sale doctrine.  An appeals court sided with John Wiley & Sons, rejecting the long-established legal doctrine in the case of copyrighted products produced overseas.

If the Supreme Court agrees, it would call into question the right to resell any imported item containing intellectual property, including DVDs, iPhones, and even furniture, without first obtaining the permission of the IP owner.

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