The Supreme Court of the United States has decided to hear a case that will have significant effects on the free market. The issue involves a USC student, Supap Kirtsaeng from Thailand who purchased several textbooks in his home country (through family) and later sold them in the United States. He was sued by the publisher, John Wiley and Sons, which won a jury award against Kirtsaeng in the amount of $600,000 dollars.
A similar case had previously been heard by SCOTUS involving Costco selling imported watches made by Omega, which sued Costco. This ended in a tie when Justice Elena Kagan sat out the case.
The court is expected to actually hear the case in October.
So what is at stake here?
First of all, this is not about copying. Kirtsaeng was not accused of copying textbooks, or does he claim to have done so. This is really about the “First Sale” doctrine. The problem is the lower court said the doctrine does not apply because of the fact that the work was manufactured outside the US.
In my opinion, this is really more about corporations wanting more control over things in ways that allow them to jack up prices, gouge consumers, and undermine the free market. American corporations already get to buy from the lowest price products and services around the world. But these same corporations want to deny individuals and small businesses from enjoying the same privilege.
And this is not just textbooks and watches. It’s very important and overly expensive things like prescription drugs. Corporations go out of their way to cut off the free market when it doesn’t suit them, and the so called “free market capitalist conservatives”, who clearly are not, are supporting this.
The problem isn’t that the corporations want to do this. Most people want to make a million dollars, too. But we don’t accept people making that million dollars in unfair ways like deception. The problem is we have laws that apparently are allowing this kind of corporate deception to continue.
We need to bring back a truly free global market. I’m all for stopping theft of copyrighted content. But this isn’t about any such theft. These textbooks were not copied. These textbooks were not physically stolen. The publisher received their royalties.
If we don’t stop this here, it can only get worse and the free market will be destroyed. Unfortunately, the US Constitution does not speak strongly or directly to this issue. SCOTUS may well decide that such laws do not violation the US Constitution. Then we will need to have Congress fix these laws as a matter of a changed government policy that favors free trade.