The outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court decision could have a big impact on pawn shops or anyone reselling anything online or at garage sales.
The case at issue is Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons and centers around the first-sale doctrine in copyright law that says once a person buys a copyrighted item, the copyrights have been eliminated.
The Supreme Court will decide if the first-sale doctrine will apply to products made outside the United States.
Many people who are short on cash turn to pawnshops to sell something they no longer want to keep. People can do that thanks to the first-sale doctrine.
The doctrine allows anyone to buy and then sell things on Craigslist, eBay or a pawn shop without getting permission from the copyright holder of the items.
University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor Christopher Holman says if the court sides with the challengers in the case, it could drive manufacturing businesses outside the United States.
Brian Anderson, owner of the Olathe Trading Post and Pawn, says the change would not be good for business.
"About 50 to 70 percent of the items in our store and across America could no longer be sold by the owners who had purchased them legally," Anderson said.
However, Holman doesn't feel it will have that sort of an impact.
"You don't see people going after someone for reselling a book. In every case it's been more of a commercial operation," Holman said.
Holman said not applying the first-sale doctrine abroad could have a different impact.
"The negative impact for the United States is now you have an incentive to have copyrighted objects manufactured outside the United States because they will receive preferential treatment," Holman said.
Pawnshop owners, like Anderson, say they hope the ruling doesn't change what they can sell, no matter where a product was made.
"It has always been our right to sell our items," Anderson said.
The case began with an attempt to crack down on gray markets. Court documents allege that a college student from Thailand went to school at Cornell University in New York and had his relatives buy cheap books in Thailand and ship them to him. He then started an online business, selling the books for $1.2 million, according to court documents.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case at the end of the month.
A similar case against Costco ended with a 4-4 split decision because one justice stepped down from the case.
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