Public Knowledge today said the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn a lower court ruling that, if upheld, would rewrite copyright law so that consumer choices in the goods they buy, and what they do with those items after purchase, would be severely restricted.
In the case, Costco Wholesale v. Omega S.A., (No. 08-1423) the warehouse store wanted to sell Omega watches it purchased legally from a third party, which sold the watches to Costco. Omega sued to block the transaction, however, arguing that the watches, which were made in Switzerland and sold overseas, carried its copyrighted logo, and that U.S. laws didn't apply to the sales. The particular laws to which Omega objected are the “first sale” laws that allow anyone who buys a product to resell it, give it away or otherwise legally do as they wish. Omega claimed the sale of the watches to a third party infringed on its copyright of the logo, and the U.S. Appeals Court for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco agreed in a Sept. 3, 2008 ruling.
In its brief filed with the Supreme Court (available here), Public Knowledge argued that the case “case threatens the ability of consumers and businesses alike to control and dispose of all lawfully acquired goods that contain a copyrighted work made outside the United States.” Public Knowledge argued that the Appeals Court ruling “provides a recipe to take otherwise unremarkable goods and, by adding a minimal copyrighted work like a logo, render them immune from resale in or parallel import into the United States – two activities with a history as old as the nation both of legality and of providing broad consumer benefits.”
The PK brief argued: “The consequences of this ruling should not be underestimated. Resellers – be they online auction houses like eBay, individual users of those services, or local antique stores – will be subject to massive copyright liability if they sell products whose label or logo happens to have been made abroad. With no way to find out where a logo was made, and no incentive for the producer to provide that information, it will become nearly impossible to safely resell even products which remain lawful to resell. And with the incentive to move manufacturing abroad, the destruction of the secondary market and parallel imports is likely to rapidly expand to cover all goods.”
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