The Association of American Publishers filed a friend of the court brief yesterday urging the Supreme Court to uphold a ruling by the Ninth Circuit which held that the “first sale doctrine” does not apply to the unauthorized importation into the U.S. of copyrighted works that are manufactured overseas and acquired abroad.

Although the case before the court—Costco Wholesale Corp. v Omega, S.A.--involves the importation of wristwatches and not books, the AAP sees it as critically important to U.S. publishers because the Supreme Court ruling will determine whether the “first sale doctrine” (which allows the owner of a copy of a work protected by U.S. copyright to sell or otherwise dispose of that particular copy without having to get the permission of the copyright holder) will operate to legalize the importation of books that were manufactured abroad for distribution in foreign markets and never intended for sale in the U. S.

The illegal importation of foreign works is a major issue in particular for college publishers, especially since the Internet as made buying books from foreign sources easier. “This case goes to the heart of a serious problem for U.S. higher education publishers and for American college students who are buying textbooks that were created for a specific foreign market and not intended for use in the U.S. in the mistaken belief that these foreign editions, which have been acquired abroad by third parties and imported into the U.S. without authorization, are identical in content and production quality to the books being used in their college courses,” said Allan Adler, v-p for government and legal affairs at the AAP.