Hot Topics:

Supreme Court Sides with eBay Seller in Copyright Case

Justices say first sale doctrine applies to items made abroad.

Online sellers in the U.S. can buy copyrighted materials abroad, import them and resell them in the States without getting the permission of the copyright owner.

That’s the ruling the U.S. Supreme Court handed down on Tuesday in a copyright case involving an eBay seller who sold textbooks purchased in Thailand and the publisher of a few of those works, John Wiley.

Wiley sued the seller, Supap Kirtsaeng, for not getting his permission before reselling the books. His suit claimed the first sale doctrine—which allows people to resell, lend or display copyrighted works without the permission of the copyright owner if the items are bought legally in the U.S.—did not apply in this scenario because the books were purchased abroad.

With this ruling, the Supreme Court says the first sale doctrine covers those items, too.

“The decision protects your right to buy and sell authentic goods, regardless of where they were made”

Kirtsaeng v. Wiley has garnered the attention of eBay, Amazon, major retailers and organizations like the American Library Association because of the impact it could have on anyone importing items from abroad for resale or to lend out.

For these organizations, Tuesday’s 6-3 decision in favor of the eBay seller was a welcomed outcome.

In the case, the justices had to ask themselves, “Can [a] buyer bring [a] copy into the United States, and sell it or give it away without obtaining permission to do so from the copyright owner?” notes Justice Stephen Breyer in the court’s majority opinion. “Can, for example, someone who purchases, say at a used bookstore, a book printed abroad subsequently resell it without the copyright owner’s permission? In our view, the answers to these questions are ‘Yes.'”

Main Street, an eBay blog that discusses policies affecting online sellers, called the 6-3 decision “a great victory for all American consumers and businesses.”

“The decision protects your right to buy and sell authentic goods, regardless of where they were made,” the blog notes. “This decision affirms eBay’s position that if you bought it, you own it and you have the right to sell it.”

The outcome also made the Association of Service and Computer Dealers and the North American Association of Telecommunications happy. Joseph Marion, the organizations’ president, says his groups “applaud” the court’s decision.

“This decision affirms the first sale doctrine, protecting the right of consumers and organizations to buy, sell [and] lease equipment that they bought and own, regardless of where those goods were made,” he notes.

What do you think of this ruling?

About the author

Olga Munoz
Olga Munoz is editor of In addition to writing news and feature articles about e-commerce, selling trends, online marketing and other topics of interest to online sellers, Olga manages the site's social media efforts. A journalism graduate of Chico State, Olga says her favorite part of being a journalist is learning interesting facts that help put stories into perspective, attending industry events and meeting interesting people "that leave you smiling, even in tough situations." Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.


    Then does that mean the Disney dvds made in China are legal to sell in the U.S. if purchased from China? I know there are a lot of the dvds sold in Amazon that were sold by China and to tell you the truth, the one I have seems to be as well made as the ones from Disney.

  • Affirmed the fact that you own what you legally bought.

  • Great New and so Happy Because I’m a Seller in Ebay

Newsletter Signup