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Supreme Court to hear copyright case

Oct. 27, 2012 at 5:50 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Oct. 27 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court will decide a dispute between a textbook publisher and a former graduate student who resold books purchased overseas.

The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Monday, CNN reported.

Supap Kirtsaeng, who has since returned to Thailand, was ordered by a lower court to pay John Wiley & Sons $600,000 in damages. He sold textbooks published by a Wiley subsidiary in Asia.

Kirtsaeng's lawyers say he is protected by the first-sale doctrine. That gives those who purchase anything covered by copyright -- such as a book or record -- the right to resell the physical object, although purchasers are not free to copy the material and sell the copies.

Wiley argues that does not mean Kirtsaeng could have relatives and friends buy books for him in Thailand and ship them to the United States. The textbooks contained a disclaimer saying they could not be exported, and the company argues copyright law protects its foreign distribution rights.

Legal experts say the high court must disentangle an apparently contradictory copyright statute.

"I have to say the Supreme Court is faced with a really difficult job here because the text of the statute really seems to be hard to reconcile -- the two provisions at issue seem to say opposite things," Michael Carroll, an intellectual property expert at American University, told CNN.

Kirtsaeng made about $1 million in revenue from his textbook business while he was a student at Cornell and later at the University of Southern California, court records indicate. His lawyers say his profits were about $37,000.

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