While Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons deals with textbooks, and not movies, it’s a case that everyone who cares about getting the best version of a Blu-ray should sit up and take notice of.
The case revolves around Supap Kirtsaeng, who imported Thailand editions of textbooks and resold them in America. These Thai editions are priced much, much cheaper than their American cousins, and naturally the US copyright holder isn’t exactly happy about it, as textbooks are a low volume business as it is.
The problem is, this ruling may be applicable to pretty much any copyrighted work, and in a way, it already is. Miramax famously blocked the importation of Hong Kong films in the early 2000s that they had purchased the rights to. This made fans furious, as the studio would routinely cut 20 minutes out of the movies, remove the original soundtrack, and even go so far as to change plots at times (Jet Li’s Fist of Legend has the entire context of the Japanese occupation stripped from the film, making the soldiers look like generic thugs).
While this ruling is likely only to apply to businesses and not individuals, it does set a precedent, for, say Warner Bros. blocking Amazon.uk from shipping Lethal Weapon to the US, two years before it’s out here, and at 30% of the price.
In making their decision, the Supreme Court must be very careful not to restrict the right of individuals to import legally produced items for their own personal use. At the same time, copyright holders must be protected, as well. It’s a hair-thin, line, but one that needs to be made hard and fast.