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Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
United States Supreme Court
136 S. Ct. 1979 (2016)
Supap Kirtsaeng (plaintiff), a Thai citizen, discovered that academic publisher John Wiley & Sons (JW&S) (defendant) sold the same English-language textbooks in both the United States and in Thailand but at a much lower price in Thailand. While residing in the United States, Kirtsaeng arranged for others in Thailand to purchase the Thai version of the textbooks, which Kirtsaeng resold for profit in the United States. JW&S sued Kirtsaeng for copyright infringement, arguing that Kirtsaeng’s resale business infringed on its exclusive right to distribute the textbooks. Kirtsaeng challenged, arguing that the first-sale doctrine allowed him to resell the textbooks even though they were originally manufactured in Thailand. At the time of JW&S’s copyright-infringement suit, federal courts were split on the issue of whether resale of foreign-made books fell within the protections of the first-sale doctrine. After the district court and the Second Circuit sided with JW&S, Kirtsaeng appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that the first-sale doctrine extended to foreign-made books. Kirtsaeng then returned to the district court and moved for attorney’s fees under Section 505 of the Copyright Act. The district court denied Kirtsaeng’s fee request, holding that fee-shifting was inappropriate because JW&S had advanced a reasonable position in its copyright-infringement suit. The Second Circuit affirmed, and Kirtsaeng appealed to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that special weight in fee cases should be given to whether the lawsuit’s outcome resolved a previously disputed issue in copyright law.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Kagan, J.)
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