June 8, 2023

Is That Stuff Really Yours?

Courtroom 1What if I told you that the stuff in your house that you think you’re going to be able to sell to buy next big thing would be worth nothing to you?  That television, computer or cell phone that you bought—worthless.

The U.S. Supreme Court has on its list of cases, one that should be a cause of concern for anyone that enjoys reselling their stuff.

In 1997, a college student to Cornell University figured out a way to make a lot of money by getting his relatives in Thailand to buy his textbooks at their prices, ship them to him, and then resell for cheaper than the bookstore could sell them.  Of course this made the bookstore upset, so it sued.

At issue in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons is the first-sale doctrine in copyright law, which allows you to buy and then sell things like electronics, books, artwork and furniture, as well as CDs and DVDs, without getting permission from the copyright holder of those products.

Under the doctrine, which the Supreme Court has recognized since 1908, you can resell your stuff without worry because the copyright holder only had control over the first sale.

That’s being challenged now for products that are made abroad, and if the Supreme Court upholds an appellate court ruling, it would mean that the copyright holders of anything you own that has been made in China, Japan or Europe, for example, would have to give you permission to sell it.

[Marketwatch – Your right to resell your own stuff is in peril]

This means that you would have to get permission to sell your copy of the work, item, part, etc. before you could do it.  That means that the foreign companies could fire takedown notices to Ebay or Craigslist.  If they really wanted to go crazy, they could go after garage sales and antique sales.

The only upside that I could see is that there could be a resurgence of Made in the USA if people were to find out that once they bought that new iPhone they could never sell it.

Image from Stock Exchange used under the Standard Restrictions explained at the link.

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