Website ‘You’ve Been Owned’ Launches to Defend First-Sale Doctrine

One of the stories we’ve posted that has received a lot of attention was our article entitled “Could Selling Your Computer One Day Be a Criminal Offense?” It revolves around a court case that could make the selling of foreign manufactured products copyright infringement. With the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one could make the connection that this could set the seeds for making such a simple activity a criminal offense. Now, a website has launched to try and prevent this from ever being reality.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

For legal buffs, the court case is Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons. It revolves around someone selling their textbooks to others. Somehow, events led up to where a New York appeals court ruled that if you sell an item that was manufactured overseas and has, say, a copyrighted logo, the sale of that item could be an act of copyright infringement. To blame for how we got to this point was reportedly the complicated wording of the first-sale doctrine. The case is headed to the Supreme Court where the whole concept of first-sale doctrine could be thrown into serious question because of how the world economy works these days (how many items do you own that contains notices like “Made in [name of country other than the United States]”?)

Demand Progress has notified us that they have now responded to this with the launching of a website called “You’ve Been Owned” which, in part, raises public awareness to the kind of threat an unfavorable ruling could make. From the website:

Do you really own the smartphone or computer you’re using to read this? If you sold your books, would you be breaking the law? A federal court in New York says you would be, even if you legally paid for and bought them.

It’s unbelievable, but trademark and copyright holders really are trying to use a legal loophole to take away your right to sell things that you own: Please add your name at right to fight back.

Public interest advocates are taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court, and Demand Progress is joining up with a coalition of groups — including many of those that came together to kill SOPA — to support the rights of ordinary Internet users and everyday consumers.

We are working to defend a long-standing principle known as the “First-Sale Doctrine.” This common-sense rule gives us the right to sell most property we own, but big businesses have been trying to chip away at out our rights in the courts. If the Supreme Court supports the lower court’s decision, we won’t really “own” anything if any part of it was made in a different country. And practically anything you own — from your iPod to your house — could have been made abroad, in whole or in part.

The website urges its visitors to contact Obama and congress and tell them to side with the consumer and urge the Supreme court to overturn the New York court ruling. You can also check out the Twitter hashtag #Right2Own to see how far the campaign has come along as well.

One of the complaints about this whole ordeal is how much its flying under the radar. Well, we wrote about it earlier and we’re writing about it now. So, it’s not from a lack of effort from our part anyway.

I think this case really highlights a certain level of absurdity in the copyright debate in favor of big content. Personally, I’m surprised that we’re now questioning something so basic at this point (let alone have it already reach the Supreme Court). I think that if the Supreme Court doesn’t overturn the lower court ruling, there will be a lot of harm done in the American economy. Part of why people buy things is the knowledge that it could be sold later. If that value is lost and now selling your own possessions is considered copyright infringement, that lowers the perceived value of that item. In my personal opinion, that could negatively impact someones willingness to buy anything. If you want people to buy your products, let them use that product how they see fit after the point of purchase. I also think you have a right to own what physical item you legally purchased and paid for.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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