Supreme Court Rules International Edition Textbooks legal for Sale in US
On March 19, 2013, the Supreme Court published its final decision in the court case Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons. In a 6-3 vote, the court decided that Supap Kirtsaeng, an Thailand-born US college student was not in violation of any law for importing International Edition Textbooks and reselling them in the United States. In the short-run, this is great for college students, textbook resellers, and online textbook marketplaces. However, in the long-run, it may discourage publishers from licensing their copyrighted works to foreign publishers, which would be a detriment to US college students, as well as the countries losing access to valuable educational materials from here in the US.
The court case is centered around the first sale doctrine, which essentially states that while textbook publishers may have agreements in place with the foreign publishers, once an individual purchases that book in a foreign country, they have the right to resell that book either immediately or after they are done with it. In the grand scheme of things, this allows entrepreneurs to continue importing these cheap textbooks for sale in the US marketplace.
International Edition Textbooks are quite commonplace in the United States. For those unfamiliar with them, they usually are paperback compared to hardcover, printed on cheaper paper, and sometimes in black and white. The cover will usually contain a warning stating that the book is not to be sold in the United States. These cheap textbooks are frequently sold brand new at a fraction of the price of the US edition. The majority of these textbooks contain identical information and page numbering, however, infrequently some textbooks may contain slightly different questions at the end of chapters making it tough for a student to complete coursework that requires using the book’s supplied questions and answers. However, this is rare, and if you should stumble upon this, I would request to return the book to where you purchased it.
Many Textbook marketplaces allow the sale of International Edition Textbooks. They should be marked as such, and are pretty obvious by the price differential compared to US editions. Now with this recent ruling, I would expect to see an influx of international edition textbooks listed on marketplaces at very cheap prices, that’s why comparing textbook prices is always important. For those students who may have been nervous about purchasing a textbook that states it is not for sale in the US, do not fret any longer. For those of you who run in to teachers who ban international editions, just direct them to my article, as well as the published decision of the Supreme Court: