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College student's side job sparks U.S. Supreme Court copyright case

A man from Thailand who came to the U.S. for school was met with the surprise that most new college students in this country are met with once they begin college: school textbooks are outrageously expensive. Instead of simply complaining about the problem, this particular student made a business out of the obvious dilemma.

Textbooks that are published in the U.S. are sold internationally and sold for cheaper prices in the student's homeland of Thailand. He bought textbooks there that students needed here and sold them for lesser prices. He made a reported $100,000 in his entrepreneurial effort but didn't get to celebrate his success without legal stress.

NBC News reports that textbook publisher John Wiley & Sons challenged the student's selling of their textbooks. The business argued that the young man was infringing upon copyright laws. Lower courts agreed with that argument, requiring the student to pay damages of $600,000, money he clearly didn't have.

But the matter went beyond those courts and to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 6-3 vote, the court ruled in favor of the student, confirming the argument that he was legally exercising his right to sell items that he himself had purchased. The first sale doctrine essentially provides consumers the right to sell or give away goods that they own.

This ruling has a wide impact in the country. It impacts those who depend on secondary sales either as a business or as a way of living on a budget. A business like the Goodwill, for example, sells copyrighted items like books. Prohibiting the student's sale of books would be no different from the sale of books at the Goodwill or at a garage sale. That is what supporters of the ruling argue, at least. Some are disappointed with the court's ruling. They worry that publishers will be forced to increase the price of their products to international consumers.

Copyright issues can be complex. Our California intellectual property lawyers have experience protecting individuals' and businesses' rights in copyright infringement cases.

Source: NBC News, "Supreme Court backs student in dispute over used textbook sales," Pete Williams, March 19, 2013

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