Supreme Court Interprets First Sale Doctrine

If you have ever checked a book out of this or any other library, then you have been the beneficiary of the “First Sale Doctrine.” Under 17 U.S.C. § 109:

…the owner of a particular copy or phonorecord lawfully made under this title, or any person authorized by such owner, is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord.

This provision is at the heart of much of what libraries do—loan materials to patrons. It also allows you to gather up all your long ignored novels or old textbooks and sell them on Ebay.

The question addressed in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. is whether this right of resale/redistribution extends to someone who pushes the envelope by purchasing numerous copies of an American publisher’s textbooks, lawfully produced overseas, and reselling them at a hefty profit here in the U.S. Yesterday, the Supreme Court answered affirmatively, holding ” that the ‘first sale’ doctrine applies to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad.”