Copyright Ruling Rings With Echo of Betamax (NYT 3/26/13)

Copyright Ruling Rings With Echo of Betamax
New York Times March 26, 2013 by Eduardo Porter

"Before Napster and LimeWire, before Megauploads and the Pirate Bay, media companies’ epic struggle against copying, piracy and generally losing control over their creations can be traced to a legal fight more than 30 years ago over a device that has long since passed on to the great trash heap in the sky: the Sony Betamax."

"Last week, the Supreme Court made another call that could have equally far-reaching implications. The ruling referred only to printed books, another technology that predates the Internet. Yet it, too, is likely to reshape the information economy in unexpected ways.

"In a 6-to-3 decision, the court took sides with Supap Kirtsaeng, a Thai math student at Cornell who generated roughly $900,000 in revenue reselling in the United States cheap textbooks that his friends and relatives sent from Thailand.

"John Wiley & Sons had argued that Mr. Kirtsaeng was infringing on its copyright by importing the books without permission. The publisher said this short-circuited its ability to segment markets by price — selling the books more expensively to American students than to poorer Thai students who could otherwise not afford them.

"But the court held that the publisher’s right to ban imports was trumped by Mr. Kirtsaeng’s right of first sale. He might not be allowed to make unauthorized copies of the books. But as with old library books or secondhand Gucci bags at a flea market, if the books had been bought legally, whether imported or sold originally in the United States, Mr. Kirtsaeng could sell them."

Read the complete article here.

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