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Booksellers wait on Supreme Court decision: Could selling a used book become illegal?

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(Read caption) Retailers like Amazon and eBay could be affected by the Supreme Court ruling on whether it's legal to resell books purchased abroad.

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Is reselling a used book illegal?

It might be, depending on the outcome of a Supreme Court case that will have far-reaching consequences for retailers of used goods across the nation. 

The nation’s highest court is considering a copyright case that could make it illegal for non-profits and businesses – used booksellers, online giants like Amazon and eBay, even libraries, museums, and Goodwill – to resell copyrighted works produced abroad.

The case everyone is watching? John Wiley & Sons Inc. v. Kirtsaeng. The defendant, an enterprising University of Southern California doctoral student named Supap Kirtsaeng who is a native of Thailand, found purchasing textbooks in the US prohibitively expensive. So Kirtsaeng had friends and family find cheaper, Thai-manufactured editions of the same textbooks in Thailand and ship them to the US, where Kirtsaeng began reselling them on websites like eBay for a profit.

Textbook publisher Wiley learned of his business and sued Kirtsaeng for copyright infringement. The jury in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York found Kirtsaeng liable for copyright infringement and awarded Wiley $600,000 in damages.

The case was appealed to the Second Circuit and eventually to the Supreme Court, which is honing in on one particular aspect of copyright law.


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