Historically publishers tried to restrict the resale price of second-hand books by putting a notice specifying a minimum price in the cover of the book. Absurd, right? Well the US Supreme court agreed that people could ignore that, sell their books for any price, and that principle was called the First-sale Doctrine. Recently a Thai student bought cheaper books overseas and imported them for sale but the publisher tried to use copyright to prevent the second-hand books from being sold and there’s been an ongoing court case to establish whether First-sale Doctrine applies to overseas purchases too. Today the court ruled that it does apply. As ArsTechnica report,
The importation of copyrighted goods made abroad has been an increasingly contentious issue in recent years. Easy access to Internet resale markets like eBay and Amazon have made it possible for a new breed of entrepreneurs to buy low and sell high in a wide array of areas. The Supreme Court handed these resellers a major victory today, issuing a decision [PDF] that makes it clear that the “first sale” doctrine protects resellers, even when they move goods across national boundaries.
Of course if “intellectual property” was more like real property there would have never been a lengthy court case because it’s understood that, for example, people buying a bar of chocolate can do anything they want with it. Buyers are not encumbered after their purchase. The idea of restricting what happens to a legally purchased item is just another example of how “intellectual property” is not property as we know it and rather that copyright should be thought more of as a monopoly right. That right expires in due course, and it has important limitations like Fair Dealing/Fair Use* and the First-sale Doctrine.