Thai academic wins US copyright case
WASHINGTON - The United States Supreme Court has slapped down publishers with a decision that Thai student Supap Kirtsaeng was acting completely legally when he sold Thai editions of books in the United States.
- Published: 20/03/2013 at 11:25 AM
- Newspaper section: topstories
Mr Supap, a graduate PhD student in mathematics at the University of Southern California, had his family buy low-cost textbooks in Bangkok and send them to him in Los Angeles, where he sold them at lower-than-US prices to help to finance his studies.
He reportedly earned a profit of US$100,000 with the niche business, selling books on eBay and elsewhere, using the name Bluechristine99 to build his reputation.
Dr Supap Kirtsaeng, Silpakorn University
The textbook publisher John Wiley and Sons sued Mr Supap - who moved back to Bangkok and joined Silpakorn University after earning his degree - claiming the grey-market business needed its permission. Lower court juries slapped Mr Supap with a $600,000 fine, and seized his golf clubs, computer and printer as partial payment.
Wednesday morning (Thailand time), the Supreme Court overturned those penalties and vindicated Mr Supap as acting legally the whole time.
It found the Thai student's view of US copyright law "more persuasive" than the publishing industry's, and it threw out the verdict against him.
The justices even cited the eBay motto: "If you bought it, you own it, and you have a right to sell it."
The decision brought a huge sigh of relief to resellers across the United States and even the world. If the publishers had won their case against Mr Supap it could easily have led to a slippery slope where big business demanded that consumers get permission before selling anything.
Big Copyright was furious at the decision.
The motion picture and recording industries said their international marketing strategy would be upset if they could not prevent unauthorised sales of video discs or CDs.
The full text of the Supreme Court's verdict is online in PDF format.
The decision "will hinder American business' ability to compete overseas to the detriment of the long-term economic interests of the United States, and particularly its creative industries," claimed the Motion Picture Association of America.
Justice Stephen G Breyer, speaking for the Court's majority, said the justices were wary of extending copyright protection to all manner of products, including books and artworks, that were lawfully made and sold abroad.
In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the ruling a "bold departure" from "Congress' aim to protect copyright owners against the unauthorised importation of low-priced, foreign-made copies of their copyrighted works." Conservative justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony M Kennedy agreed with her.
Tom Allen, chief executive of the Association of American Publishers, voice the inevitable threat, that the ruling would harm the ability of American publishers to compete in global markets:
"That ruling creates a disincentive for American educational publishers to continue to produce Asian editions or editions for foreign markets."
Of course he stopped short of predicting such an event, which is extremely unlikely.
About the author
- Writer: Online reports, with Agency accounts