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First Sale Doctrine

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What Is the First Sale Doctrine?

The first sale doctrine allows the purchaser of a copyrighted work to be able to use the work in any way that they want to. The copyrighted owner still has exclusive rights to the work since they are not infringed. The copyrighted work can be used, sold, rented, destroyed, and copied.

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 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.

What Are the First Sale Doctrine Exceptions?

The first sale doctrine has exceptions to the rule, which prohibit the rental of computer programs and music recordings. The lending of digital work has been scrutinized and has been very limited because of the easy way to record the work without purchase.

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.

What If a Third Party Is Unaware That a First Sale Did Not Take Place?

An innocent third party may still be liable for infringement even if a first sale never took place. The right to dispose copyrighted work does not allow an owner of the work the right to make any alterations or incorporations to the work. For example, a purchaser of a book cannot tear pages out of the book and add different ones that the original author did not create in his work.

Seeking Legal Help

If you have issues with the first sale doctrine or other laws related to copyright infringement, you should consult an experienced intellectual property lawyer for assistance.

The first sale doctrine only applies to the person who owns the work and not to the person who possesses the property. Once the work has been distributed to the public by the author, the owner of the property has personal property rights and may market the copy of the work.

Photo of page author Kourosh Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 10-20-2014 11:40 AM PDT

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