WASHINGTON, April 16 (Reuters) - The Supreme Court said on Monday it would hear a case on whether a U.S. copyright law doctrine applies to copies made and acquired abroad and then imported into the United States, an issue the justices failed to decide in 2010.
The high court said it would decide the reach of what is known as the first-sale doctrine, a provision of the Copyright Act that allows the owner of a lawfully made copy to sell or dispose of it without the copyright owner's permission.
The justices will review a ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that a foreign-made copy can never be resold within the United States without the copyright owner's permission.
The legal issue has implications for the multibillion-dollar "gray market," in which brand-name goods protected by trademark or copyright are imported into the United States via third parties.
The Supreme Court previously agreed to decide the same issue in a copyright infringement case involving Costco Wholesale Corp over reselling luxury imported Swiss-made watches produced by a Swatch Group unit.
But in December 2010, the Supreme Court said it was deadlocked in that case by a 4-4 vote and did not decide the legal issue.
The court deadlocked because Justice Elena Kagan did not take part in the case after being involved in it in her previous position as U.S. solicitor general. However, she took part in Supreme Court's new case from New York.
The case involves an appeal by Supap Kirtsaeng, who came to the United Sates from Thailand in 1997 to attend Cornell University, where he received his undergraduate degree. He then was accepted into the University of Southern California's PhD program in mathematics.
To subsidize his education costs, he asked family and friends in Thailand to buy copies of textbooks and ship them to him in the United States. He then sold the books on the online auctioneer eBay Inc.
Among the books he sold were eight textbooks printed in Asia by John Wiley & Sons' Asian subsidiary. In 2008, the publisher sued him for copyright infringement, claiming his gross revenue from selling Wiley's books totaled $37,000.
A jury found him liable and imposed damages of $75,000 for each of the books. The appeals court upheld the copyright infringement judgment and the award of damages.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the case during its upcoming term that begins in October, with a ruling likely early next year.
The Supreme Court case is Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, No. 11-697.
(Reporting by James Vicini)
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