Copyright Conundrum

Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to Costco in the case of OMEGA SA v. Costco Wholesale Corp. (541 F. 3d 982 (2008)).  At issue is whether the ‘first sale doctrine’ of US copyright law (17 U.S.C. § 109(a)), which limits the copyright owner’s ability to restrict distribution of its product after first sale, applies to foreign-manufactured products whose first sale was outside the U.S. and whose importation to the U.S. was not authorized by the manufacturer. (I happened to run across a July 31 op-ed by Eric Felten at the WSJ lamenting the potential for the case to limit the ability of libraries to lend books, particularly books originally published and purchased overseas.) The case raises some interesting issues about the role and purpose of copyright protection, segregated market price discrimination in a global economy, and the role of the gray markets in arbitraging global price disparities.

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