Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Your right to resell your own stuff is in peril

From Market Watch:

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 Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has the copyright on the iPhone and Mark Owen has it 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.

“It means that it’s harder for consumers to buy used products and harder for them to sell them,” said Jonathan Band, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries and the Association for Research Libraries. “This has huge consumer impact on all consumer groups.” 

Another likely result is that it would hit you financially because the copyright holder would now want a piece of that sale. 

It could be your personal electronic devices or the family jewels that have been passed down from your great-grandparents who immigrated from Spain. It could be a book that was written by an American writer but printed and bound overseas, or an Italian painter’s artwork.

More here.

Longish excerpt, I know, but it's a slightly abstract concept that needs more than just a few words to explain.  Needless, to say, given what's at stake, it's also an important concept.

Since the passage of NAFTA, and even a bit earlier, observers on the left have been noting that "free trade" has a lot less to do with free trade than it does with investor agreements and patent and copyright protections.  That is, a not insignificant chunk of the drive to reduce trade barriers and tariffs includes locking in, within an international legal framework, the ability of wealthy elites to make money at the expense of everybody else: the case described above is just about as clear-cut of an example of this as I've ever seen.

Indeed, the very concept of owning something that you have bought and paid for is now on the chopping block, and I'd give the now corporate-friendly US Supreme Court a better than fifty-fifty chance for upholding the lower court ruling.  It is very important to note that in our now global economy a great deal of what we buy was manufactured outside our borders.  Consequently, this would result in heavily restricted trade, rather than the "free trade" such an idea ostensibly represents.  It only helps massive corporations: small businesses, savvy entrepreneurs, thrifty teenagers, and people like you and me just trying to make a buck need not apply.  So bye-bye, pawn shops.  So long, used car lots.  Later days, used book stores.  Hasta la vista, e-Bay.

It's clear how this helps out the extremely wealthy.  What's not clear is how this does anything but beat up on an already fragile economy.