Local bookstores concerned about possible copyright law changes

GREENSBORO, N.C. — An upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case could change how businesses and individuals can re-sell certain books, CD’s, DVD’s and artwork without jumping through hoops.

Operations at used bookstores, comic book stores and even yard sales could all change based an appeal the Supreme Court is hearing regarding the Kirtsaeng v. Wiley case.
Earlier this year, courts awarded textbook Publisher John Wiley & Sons $600,000.

The jury decided graduate student Supap Kirtsaeng infringed on the company’s copyrights when he re-sold textbooks in the U.S. that family and friends were buying abroad. His profit was $1.2 million.

Federal judges have come to different conclusions about whether copyright law applies in Kirtsaeng’s and other cases, according to the Associated Press.

The issue is whether copyright owners should make a percentage of the profits during the re-sell of intellectual property produced outside of the U.S.

Greensboro bookstore owner Mark Wingfield is keeping up with the resale laws in this Supreme Court case. He says he’s not sure exactly how it would affect his used bookstore, Empire Books, in Greensboro.

“The industry in general- it could start to get complicated,” Wingfield said.

Wingfield sells used books both online and in his Greensboro store. He explains his business and many others based on the “first sale” principle.

“That’s what drives the entire second hand market,” said Wingfield.

Right now, the law says copyrighters can only control the first sale of a book, DVD, CD or piece of art. After the original sale, anyone can sell it, online or in a store, without permission from the copyright owner.

“But in this case, they’re trying to say that the first sale principle doesn’t apply to anything manufactured outside of the U.S.,” said Wingfield. Some publishers and copyright owners believe they should make a profit off every re-sell of the intellectual property.

“For example.. this book published in the UK?” said Wingfield. “I sell this book for six dollars. If we had to take it to court, they’re gonna pay more than what they’re benefiting from it.”

Congressman Howard Coble says he has not explored the intricacies of this particular case yet. He serves on the House subcommittee on intellectual property.

“It could open wide the flood gates if held the wrong way,” said Coble . “Let’s not forget the importance of common sense. I’m a common sense advocate — and I think this case will probably cry out for common sense.”

Meanwhile used bookstore customers like Abby Mulchi relied on affordable textbooks for college and graduate school and recently had a yard sale herself.

“I sold some old books, and I never would have even thought to contact the publishing company to get permission. Taxpayer money in terms of law enforcement can go to something more useful than enforcing something that’s, to me, a little bit petty,” said Mulchi.

Wingfield doesn’t think the law could really be enforced, and doubts it would really pass at all.

“I can’t imagine that it would have the kind of overarching effects that some people are worried about,” said Wingfield.

Regardless, Wingfield says many re-sale businesses will have an eye on the Supreme Court this month. They are set to hear oral arguments in the case starting October 29th.

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