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Copyright Law: What is the First Sale Doctrine?


Under United States copyright law, copyright holders have certain exclusive rights. Among other things, copyright owners have the exclusive right to reproduce their protected work, create derivatives of this work, and to distribute the protected work. Of course, these rights are not without limitations and exceptions.

At Pike & Lustig, LLP, our experienced West Palm Beach copyright litigation attorneys have discussed the limitations of copyright before, including the ‘fair use doctrine’, which allows non-copyright holders to reproduce elements of a copyright protected work in certain circumstances. In this post, we explain another one of the key limitations of American copyright: the first sale doctrine.

Three Things You Should Know About the First Sale Doctrine  

  1. Buyers Have Basic Distribution Rights

The first sale doctrine is the legal concept that allows markets in copyright protected goods to function in a relatively normal manner. If a copyright owner sells you a copyright protected work, the first sale doctrine grants you the right to distribute that specific copy that you purchased. For example, if you purchased a brand new copy of a book from a best selling author, you have the right to list that book on Ebay or Amazon for sale, after you are finished reading the copy.

You can distribute your copy of the work. You cannot reproduce the copyright protected material on a website. Still, you can participate in a secondary market. The first sale doctrine is the legal exception that allows the buyer to distribute their single copy of the protected work in a manner that they see fit. 

  1. You Must Have Lawful Ownership to Use the First Sale Doctrine

To avoid copyright infringement, you must be a lawful owner of a product. Under U.S. copyright law, the first sale doctrine does not apply if you are only ‘leasing’ or ‘borrowing’ the work. On the surface level, this may not appear to be an important issue. However, in certain circumstances, it makes a major difference. Most notably, many software companies license their products to the end users. In other words, these companies do not give the end user any ownership right to the work. Some courts have upheld these agreements, ruling that the first sale doctrine does not apply in these case. 

  1. The Digital Age Has Made the First Sale Doctrine More Complicated

Software is not the only issue in which the digital era has made the first sale doctrine far more difficult to apply. Many courts around the country have struggled to apply the first sale doctrine to certain complex digital copyright issues. If you have a question about digital copyright and the first sale doctrine, you should consult with a qualified Florida copyright attorney immediately. Your lawyer will be able to protect your interests.

Contact Our Florida Copyright Litigation Lawyers Today

At Pike & Lustig, LLP, our dedicated copyright law attorneys are committed to providing top quality legal representation to clients throughout South Florida. To set up a free, no obligation review of your copyright case, please call us today at 305-985-5281 (our Miami office) or 561-291-8298 (our West Palm Beach office).



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