Stop! You can't sell your (fill in the blank)

The Supreme Court will soon decide whether the "First-sale Doctrine" applies to products made outside the US ... let's hope they get it right ...

So, you know those routers you purchased a couple of years ago that you're going to replace next week? What are you going to do with them? Oh, you want to sell them? And you're going to upgrade to a new iPhone or the "new" iPad?

Well, if those products were made abroad (and they are all produced at least in part in China and or Japan) you had better move fast because the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is about to weigh in on how U.S. copyright law and products manufactured outside of the U.S. are related. If SCOTUS finds, as they might, that goods produced abroad cannot be resold under the United States' "First-sale Doctrine," then you'll need the permission of the copyright holders before your routers can be sold.

Just think about that for a second. Can you imagine what it would be like if, rather than owning the physical products you purchase, they were only licensed to you and you needed to get permission from the copyright owner to transfer ownership? This problem would apply to any product whether high-, medium-, or low-tech. It would apply to your routers, your iPod, your iPad, your PCs, your car ... heck, even your coffee maker!

The First-sale Doctrine was first recognized by the SCOTUS in 1908 and says, according to Wikipedia, that once a copyrighted work is sold or otherwise lawfully transferred the copyright holder's "interest in the material object in which the copyrighted work is embodied is exhausted. The owner of the material object can then dispose of it as he sees fit. Thus, one who buys a copy of a book is entitled to resell it, rent it, give it away, or destroy it. However, the owner of the copy of the book will not be able to make new copies of the book because the first sale doctrine does not limit copyright owner's reproduction right."

Wikipedia goes on to point out that, "Without the doctrine, a possessor of a copy of a copyrighted work would have to negotiate with the copyright owner every time he wished to dispose of his copy. After the initial transfer of ownership of a legal copy of a copyrighted work, the first sale doctrine exhausts copyright holder's right to control how ownership of that copy can be disposed of."

That was all well and good except that in 2010 SCOTUS effectively affirmed a lower court ruling in a case from California's Ninth Circuit where Costco had, it was judged, committed copyright infringement by purchasing Omega watches from unauthorized European dealers and reselling them in the U.S. at prices considerably lower than Omega's recommended U.S. pricing (why these prices are called "recommended" when they are apparently mandatory makes no sense to me). What sealed the infringement deal was that Omega had a stamp on the underside of the watches that asserted their claim of copyright.

Unfortunately, SCOTUS deadlocked on Costco v. Omega which means that, while SCOTUS didn't overturn the Ninth Court, they also didn't affirm the decision, and thus the forthcoming hearing is hugely important. So, if SCOTUS decides that First-sale Doctrine doesn't apply to products made outside of the U.S. and the copyright holder gets feisty, you'll have to get permission to resell that old router ... or your old iPod, iPhone, iPad, PC or car.

If you think this matters, that you should be able to resell something you purchased like a router or an iPhone, then sign the petition at Demand Progress ... you have only your rights to lose.

Gibbs is looking out for your rights in Ventura, Calif. Try to sell your old router at backspin@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

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