Tucked into the U.S. Supreme Court’s busy agenda this fall is a little-known case that could upend your ability to resell everything from your grandmother’s antique furniture to your iPhone 4. At issue in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons is the first-sale doctrine in copyright law, which allows you to buy and then sell things like electronics, books, artwork and furniture as well as CDs and DVDs, without getting permission from the copyright holder of those products. Under the doctrine, which the Supreme Court has recognized since 1908, you can resell your stuff without worry because the copyright holder only had control over the first sale. Put simply, though Apple has the copyright on the iPhone and Mark Owen does on the book “No Easy Day,” you can still sell your copies to whomever you please whenever you want without retribution.
That’s being challenged now for products that are made abroad and if the Supreme Court upholds an appellate court ruling it would mean that the copyright holders of anything you own that has been made in China, Japan or Europe, for example, would have to give you permission to sell it.
Another likely result is that it would hit you financially because the copyright holder would now want a piece of that sale.