BOOKS
08/31/2011 03:56 pm ET Updated Oct 31, 2011

Court Ruling Could Make Lending, Selling Books Printed Overseas Illegal

Earlier this month, a U.S. court of appeals ruled against a graduate student importing textbooks from Thailand and selling them online. This ruling may have far-reaching implications for libraries and secondhand book dealers.

There is a law called the First Sale Doctrine. According to the American Association of Law Libraries website, this means that "a person who buys a legally produced copyrighted work may 'sell or otherwise dispose' of the work as he sees fit, subject to some important conditions and exceptions."

It continues, "In other words, if you legally buy a book or CD, 'first sale' gives you the right to loan that book or CD to your friend. Libraries heavily depend on the first sale doctrine to lend books and other items to patrons."

Reuters reported that the recent Second Circuit Court ruling stated that "the right of first sale… only applies to products physically manufactured in the United States." Therefore, a library cannot legally lend to borrowers, nor can an individual legally sell a used copy of, any book printed overseas without the express permission of the copyright owner.

Though no precise statistics are available, it is common practice for many American-based publishers to print their books overseas.

Rulings from the Second Circuit Court affect New York, Vermont and Connecticut; according to book-trade website Sheppard's Confidential, a similar ruling means that the same interpretation applies in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii.

Writing on the librarian-focused website ACQ web, Stephen M. Brooks fears that new collective copyright agreements may have to be agreed upon by libraries in those states. As for the relatively little coverage that the ruling has received, he states that "we could be experiencing collective denial."

The Library Journal said on its website that the decision "has the potential to undermine libraries' ability to lend foreign printed books."

The Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom's website goes a little further in describing the potential consequences of the ruling. "Prepare to burn foreign books," reads the headline on their article about the case.

The American Library Association has yet to comment on the implications of the ruling.