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The Supreme Court this week heard oral arguments in a copyright case that publishers say holds major implications for their businesses—even though the case doesn’t involve books. In Costco Wholesale Corporation v. Omega, S.A, the court will decide whether retail giant Costco can re-sell copyright-protected, foreign-made Omega wristwatches exclusively licensed for sale abroad in the U.S. market. But wristwatches aside, the copyright case holds larger implications for the publishing industry, as well as for libraries and booksellers, as it could also apply to the sale and importation of foreign-made editions.
The conflict began after Costco purchased Omega watches from third parties overseas which had legally acquired the watches from licensed Omega dealers. Costco then imported and sold the foreign-made watches in the U.S. at a steep discount, exploiting the foreign price differential. Omega watches, however, are subject to copyright, and after authorized Omega dealers in the U.S. complained about Costco’s price-cutting tactics, Omega sued to enjoin Costco from selling the foreign watches.