Supreme Court Sneak Peek: You Own It, But Can You Sell It?

This Fall, the Supreme Court will be taking up a case that can really affect all of us. The case will determine if you actually have the right to sell a used product that was made or contains parts from overseas:

At issue in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons is the first-sale doctrine in copyright law, which allows you to buy and then sell things like electronics, books, artwork and furniture, as well as CDs and DVDs, without getting permission from the copyright holder of those products.

Under the doctrine, which the Supreme Court has recognized since 1908, you can resell your stuff without worry because the copyright holder only had control over the first sale.

Put simply, though Apple Inc. AAPL -0.62% has the copyright on the iPhone and Mark Owen has it on the book “No Easy Day,” you can still sell your copies to whomever you please whenever you want without retribution.

That’s being challenged now for products that are made abroad, and if the Supreme Court upholds an appellate court ruling, it would mean that the copyright holders of anything you own that has been made in China, Japan or Europe, for example, would have to give you permission to sell it.

So if a product contains any foreign made parts, then you can be caught up by this. Want to sell your used Chevy or Ford? Well there are a lot of parts in those "America" made vehicles that come from overseas, so selling your used car, or even trading it in, can now make you a criminal.

Having a yard sale and want to get that old TV out of the basement? Better not sell it without permission from the manufacturer.

And what will this do to services like EBay or Craig's List? Copyright trolls would have a field day going after people selling products on the popular auction sites.

But it doesn't stop there. Marvin Ammori, a First Amendment lawyer and Jonathan Band, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center, bring up a concern of what this could mean for American manufacturing:

Both Ammori and Band worry that a decision in favor of the lower court would lead to some strange, even absurd consequences. For example, it could become an incentive for manufacturers to have everything produced overseas because they would be able to control every resale.

If a greedy company can make money off a product from the day it is made until the day it is destroyed, then you can be sure that they will take it for all they can. If a company is on the fence about moving manufacturing overseas, this will most likely be the final push they need.

Hopefully the Supreme Court does the right thing here and rules that foreign made objects are treated the same as domestic items when it comes to copyright and reselling. If not, then we would most likely have to wait for Congress to make a change in the laws. Of course if we have a President Mitt Romney when this happens, and with his love of sending jobs overseas, we may have to wait quiet a while to see a change. Until then, I guess the show Horders will have a lot more individuals to air, as people wait to legally sell items that they own.