If you’ve been following any of the discussion of publishing “territories” and their divergent effects on how printed books and ebooks are sold, a discussion happening here but most especially on John Scalzi’s The Whatever, you should also read Cory Doctorow’s absolutely correct quibble to my explanation of why it’s generally legal for retail booksellers to sell any edition of a printed book to anyone anywhere in the world, without worrying about the territory restrictions that might be spelled out in the contract between that book’s author and its publisher.
[T]here are, in fact, some international restrictions on what’s called “parallel importation” or “grey market selling,” where a retailer imports goods intended for sale in country X and offers them for sale in country Y. Recent trade treaties (especially ACTA and TPP) have attempted to strengthen these restrictions, and an apocalyptically stupid Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Decision has further eroded this practice.Like the California Celebrity Rights act that TNH linked to in her sidebar the other day, this is the kind of thing that reminds us the the root of the word “privilege” is “private law.” These are laws and regulations that exist for no reason other than the protection of someone’s private advantage, with not even a remotely plausible argument that such protection does the rest of the world any good. (As Cory implies but doesn’t spell out, if the advocates of these measures felt they actually had any public merit, they wouldn’t feel the need to so constantly lie to the public about them.)
The entertainment industry’s representatives deliberately blur the lines between counterfeiting, infringement and parallel importation. When you hear that ACTA is a treaty intended to fight “counterfeiting,” you probably don’t think that the “counterfeit” jewelry, DVDs, books, and perfume under discussion is the actual, bona fide item, manufactured for sale in poor countries and imported without permission to a rich country. Most of us understand that a “counterfeit Omega watch” is a fake Omega watch, not a real Omega watch that was manufactured for sale in India and then imported to the USA.
The white-hot center of this stupidity is the watch trade. For example, “genuine Rolex products can only be imported with the permission of the trademark owner, Rolex Watch U.S.A. Inc. A private individual can hand carry one Rolex watch from a trip overseas without obtaining permission. Bring in more than one, and they will all be seized as a trademark violation. Purchasing a Rolex from overseas by mail is also a trademark violation.”