Supremes to hear case that could outlaw garage sales, thrift stores

by Jack Minor –


The United  States Supreme Court is poised to head a case at the end of this month that could essentially shut down garage sales by prohibiting the resale of used goods purchased by a person.


The case involved  U.S. student, Supap Kirtsaeng, who discovered that textbooks used in the college he was attending were available cheaper overseas. Kirtsaeng purchased the textbooks and resold them to fellow students.


The company, John Wiley & Sons, sued, saying Kirtsaeng’s reselling the books which he had purchased was a copyright violation. An appellate court agreed with the company which is seeking over $600,000 in damages.


However, Kirtsaeng’s lawyers are arguing the sale is legal under what is known as the first-sale doctrine which the Supreme Court has already said gives Americans the right to resell goods. The question is whether the first-sale rule applies to goods made outside the United States.


If the ruling were to stand it would have a devastating effect on thrift stores and even individual garage sales because now they would need to get permission from the original manufacturer of the product. With so many items now made overseas it would essentially put thrift stores and garage sales out of business.


Another thorny problem would be the used car market. Even if a car is made in America there is a good possibility it contains parts made overseas. This could essentially mean a dealer would have to contact the manufacturer of every one of these parts to get permission to resell the vehicle.


Market Watch reported that if the Supreme Court upholds the appellate court’s ruling it could even prevent families from selling an heirloom if it was manufactured overseas.


“It could be your personal electronic devices or the family jewels that have been passed down from your great-grandparents who immigrated from Spain. It could be a book that was written by an American writer but printed and bound overseas, or an Italian painter’s artwork,” the story said.

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One Response to Supremes to hear case that could outlaw garage sales, thrift stores

  1. Wake Up!!! says:

    Re. the case before the Supreme Court, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons

    A decision that is contrary to the established doctrine of ‘First Sale’ would have devastating economic impact throughout the economy, as noted below.

    In normal commerce, a manufacturer sells a product in large bulk quantity to a wholesale distributor, who then divides it into smaller bulk quantities and sells it to retailers. The retailers further divide the bulk and then sell the product to consumers.

    If ‘First Sale’ is not upheld, it would destroy the supply chain, requiring consumers to purchase goods directly from manufacturers, which would be extremely costly for manufacturers, retailers and consumers.

    As an example, A consumer wanting a $20 memory module for their PC could not buy it from a company in Texas, the consumer would have to get on a plane to Taiwan to purchase the module.

    The reason that would happen if the Court decides in favor of Wiley is that products often have design patents and copyrights, whether the product is a piece of furnniture, a tablecloth or otherwise.

    The media unfortunately have failed to note this, seeing only the impact on for example yard sales.

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