The Supreme Court clarified early in April in Kirtsaeng v Wiley that the “first use” doctrine in copyright law applied to any work lawfully manufactured anywhere in the world and purchased anywhere in the world. This ruling upset many in the publisher world, and relieved many in the library and bookseller world.
First use means that after purchase of a legally manufactured copyrighted work, the user can resell, rent or loan the work without permission of, or royalty payments to, the copyright holder. The used book and library markets, for example, are built on this foundation. Kirtsaeng was purchasing textbooks printed abroad more cheaply and reselling them in the U.S. Wiley lost on its claim that first use should also apply to the first U.S. sale of books manufactured and purchased abroad.
As Scott Turow, President of the Author’s Guild (of which I am a member), saw it in a New York Times op ed on April 7, “The Slow Death of the American Author,” the Kirtsaeng case was only the latest nail in the coffin awaiting authors. It cut off an additional revenue stream, since secondary sales do not pay royalties.