Is Your Yard Sale Criminal?

Yard SaleThere is a fascinating case at the Supreme Court this term that has potentially far-reaching consequences to eBay, Thrift Stores, and even your Yard Sale. It is quite possibly that selling a lamp during your yard sale was an illegal activity. More importantly you might be heavily fined or even imprisoned for doing it!

The gist of the case is that a foreign student in the United States found out that text books sell for a lot less in his home country than they did at the student bookstore. He had relatives purchase the books in his home country and ship them to the United States where he resold them to fellow students for a tidy little profit! The book publishers took him to court for copyright infringement, he was found guilty, and ordered to pay $600,000 to the publishers. Unable to pay they took most of his possessions.

The basic idea is that once a person purchases something they own it and can resell it for whatever price they desire. The court decided that this did not apply to foreign products. As I’m sure almost all of you are aware, most of the things we purchase these days are not made in the United States. Thus, anything we resell through eBay or our yard is potentially an illegal sale and the original manufacturer is entitled to damages if I undercut their market.

Those that argue that the damage ruling is correct claim that there is nothing to worry about because the manufacturers are not going to pursue legal action against people selling such items unless it is on a large-scale. Well, I don’t like the idea that it’s ok to break the law because no one is going to prosecute you. It’s certainly likely that no one is ever going to be subject to penalties for reselling items in their yard sales but it’s a fairly big deal for eBay and other auction house sellers because they can and do work on a scale similar to the one in question.

Also, companies like Costco actually do this on a massive scale. They purchase foreign items cheaply, ship them to the US, and then resell them in their stores. So this case isn’t just about a few people but potentially large corporate entities.

For the moment I’m going to say that I think it’s ok to resell something you purchased even if it’s from a foreign country but I’m going to stay tuned on this one and see what the Justices decide. I’ll try to remember to read their opinions and understand their logic so that I can report back in a few months.

In the meantime I’d suggest you read about the case and hopefully tell me what you think in the comments and with the poll.

[polldaddy poll=6640468]

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Hammer of Fire
Upcoming Release: The Sword of Water