First Sale Doctrine

Authored by , LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

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Most Common Intellectual Property Law Issues:

Do I Keep my Copyrights Even if I Sell My Work?

The first sale exception assures the copyright owner that until her work is sold, she has the right to prohibit all others from distributing the work. However, once the work is sold, the new owner can treat the object as their own. This means that the new owner can sell the work to another without violating copyright laws.

Is the Work Treated Any Differently if It Is Possessed but not Owned?

The use of the exception is limited to persons who acquire ownership rather than mere possession of the work. For example, when you rent a movie, you possess it but don't own it (because you have to return it to the video store). So the doctrine of first sale does not apply to the situation of renting a movie, but it does apply to the video store that owns the movie.

Does the First Sale Exception Authorize further Copying of the Work?

No. The distribution right and the first sale exception apply merely to the copy that has been sold or otherwise transferred. The copyright owner is still protected against unauthorized copying of the work by the reproduction right.

Can Infringement Occur if a Third Party is Unaware that a First Sale Did Not Take Place?

Yes. An innocent third party may still be liable for infringement even if a first sale never took place.

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Last Modified: 01-08-2013 03:26 PM PST

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