From the outside, the case bearing the name Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, No. 11-697, wouldn't seem to have much to do with anime. But at its heart is an issue that ought to be familiar to any anime fan: Does someone who purchases copyrighted goods from outside a country -- such as anime DVDs or Blu-ray Discs imported from Japan -- have the right to resell them?
The short answer is yes. The long answer, why, is a little more complicated.
Many copyrighted goods are manufactured to be sold only in a given geographic region. DVDs and BDs, in particular, have encodings that only allow them to be played on devices sold in the same region, although none of that stops people from buying discs from abroad and playing them on multi-region devices.
The problem is that those discs are sold at prices that match the economy of the region. In other words, the reason discs from Hong Kong are so cheap and discs from Japan are so expensive is because of the way their respective local economies are constructed. They're not supposed to be sold as exports, especially if the item in question is already licensed in the other territory, but many of them find their ways overseas anyway. (Again, Wiley & Sons objected because the books in question were printed specifically for the Thai market.)
There's a legitimate complaint here. If a box set for a TV series sells for $50 locally, but is available for $20 as an import from another country -- maybe with dodgier English subtitles, or even none at all -- a less-discriminating fan might well go that route, not caring that far less of his money is flowing back to the original owner or the local licensor.
On the other hand, anyone importing from Japan winds up spending more, again because the local economy for such things is very different. (I go into more detail about this and related issues in my article "Anime and the Reverse Importing Problem.") And most of the anime licensors in the U.S. are more worried about losing their business to out-and-out piracy rather than to off-license sales.
So what's the upshot of this ruling? That importing anime goods from Japan and reselling them is protected by U.S. copyright and trade law, and will likely remain that way.
So it appears reselling your anime and manga imports are safe for now, but it does serve as a reminder that importing goods can always become limited or hindered. Anime and manga fans are really big on buying figures, manga, and anime.