Supreme Court May Make Selling Used iPads Illegal

With all eyes on the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on Obamacare, you may have missed this story about how they could make selling your iPad (and lots of other things) effectively illegal. Writing for The Atlantic, Attorney Marvin Ammori warns:

The Supreme Court will soon hear a case that will affect whether you can sell your iPad — or almost anything else — without needing to get permission from a dozen “copyright holders.” Here are some things you might have recently done that will be rendered illegal if the Supreme Court upholds the lower court decision:

1. Sold your first-generation iPad on Craigslist to a willing buyer, even if you bought the iPad lawfully at the Apple Store.

2. Sold your dad’s used Omega watch on eBay to buy him a fancier (used or new) Rolex at a local jewelry store.

3. Sold an “import CD” of your favorite band that was only released abroad but legally purchased there. Ditto for a copy of a French or Spanish novel not released in the U.S.

Ammori says the case will require the Supremes to decide whether something called the First-Sale Doctrine applies to items manufactured outside the United States. The Doctrine, asserted by the Supreme Court in 1908,  says you can sell your used stuff even if it contains copyrighted material, because the copyright holder only controls  the “first sale.” Describing the lower court rulings in the case at hand, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, he says:

English: Apple iPad Event

Steve Jobs introduces the Apple iPad. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Both the District and Second Circuit courts held that any product manufactured abroad is not subject to the first-sale doctrine. For instance, that iPad you sold. You noticed this statement: “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.” Same for the iPods you’ve owned, the iPhones, and the MacBooks. Because those products were manufactured abroad, according to the Second Circuit, the first-sale doctrine doesn’t apply to them. You need the permission of every copyright holder to sell the iPad. That means, you need to ask Apple for permission, and probably Google, whose Maps software comes bundled with the iPad, and includes Google copyrights.

Allow me to make a related observation. Hollywood never liked the First-Sale Doctrine and the resulting trade in used movies (they don’t get a piece of the action, and fewer people buy the products new.) That’s one reason they’re making such a push to kill physical discs and encourage media streaming. They own it, they control it, and you’re just paying for the right to view it. Once.

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