First Sale Doctrine


The First Sale Doctrine is a legal concept in copyright law that allows the owner of a legally purchased copyrighted material, such as a book or CD, to sell, lend, or give away the item without needing permission from the copyright holder. It is derived from the principle that once a copyrighted work has been sold, the copyright holder’s control over that particular copy ends. This doctrine is essential in facilitating second-hand markets and libraries, while still providing original copyright holders their rights and revenues when the item is initially sold.


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Key Takeaways

  1. First Sale Doctrine grants the buyer the right to resell, rent, or give away an item they purchased without copyright infringement.
  2. The doctrine only applies to legally manufactured and purchased copies of copyrighted works, not to unauthorized or pirated copies.
  3. First Sale Doctrine does not apply to digital goods and files, due to their nature of reproduction and distribution.


The First Sale Doctrine is an important concept within the technology and intellectual property sectors, as it provides rights to consumers while safeguarding the creator’s interests.

It primarily allows the individual who legally purchases copyrighted material to resell, lend, or gift the item without coming into conflict with the copyright holder.

Essentially, their right to further control the distribution of the purchased material is limited.

This principle plays a crucial role in fostering an environment that encourages both creators and consumers to engage in the market, thus supporting creativity, innovation, and the healthy circulation of technology products and media materials.


The First Sale Doctrine serves a significant purpose in maintaining a balance between the rights of intellectual property owners, such as copyright holders, and the general public. This legal principle allows the owner of a copyrighted item, such as a book or a DVD, to sell or dispose of their copy without retribution, as long as there is no subsequent reproduction or public distribution of additional copies.

Enshrined in copyright law, the doctrine facilitates the circulation of lawful copies of copyrighted works, creating a secondary market for these items, which includes libraries, used bookstores, and online marketplaces, ultimately promoting access to knowledge. At its core, the First Sale Doctrine is meant to provide greater accessibility to copyrighted works and educational materials for the general public.

This, in turn, promotes cultural and economic diversity, as it allows for more affordable options in the marketplace and encourages the sharing of knowledge, thoughts, and ideas. It is important to note that the First Sale Doctrine does not apply to illegal copies or counterfeit reproductions of copyrighted materials.

To sum up, the First Sale Doctrine serves as a cornerstone for a well-functioning exchange of information in society while respecting the rights of content creators.

Examples of First Sale Doctrine

The First Sale Doctrine is a legal concept in the copyright law of the United States, which allows individuals who have legally purchased copyrighted material to resell, rent, or lend that material without obtaining additional permission or paying additional royalties to the copyright holder. Here are three real-world examples of how the First Sale Doctrine has been applied:

Used Book Stores: Under the First Sale Doctrine, used book stores can legally sell pre-owned books without any additional permissions from the copyright holders. Once a consumer purchases a book, they have the right to sell, donate, or lend it to others per the First Sale Doctrine. This is why used book stores are not required to pay any royalty or secure permission from authors or publishers to sell used books.

Video Rental Stores: In the days of video rental stores, such as Blockbuster, the First Sale Doctrine allowed these businesses to rent out physical copies of movies (VHS tapes and DVDs) after purchasing them legally. The rental stores did not need to acquire additional licenses from movie studios or producers. This greatly simplified the process and enabled the growth of the video rental industry.

Libraries: Libraries benefit greatly from the First Sale Doctrine. After purchasing a book or other copyrighted material, libraries can lend it to patrons without needing permission from the copyright holder. This allows libraries to function effectively and provide the public with access to a wide range of materials at a relatively low cost. Furthermore, the First Sale Doctrine enables libraries to lend out e-books, audio recordings, and other digital media resources, allowing users to access and enjoy them without violating copyright laws.

Frequently Asked Questions: First Sale Doctrine

1. What is the First Sale Doctrine?

The First Sale Doctrine is a legal concept in copyright law that allows the owner of a copyrighted item to sell, dispose of, or transfer that item without needing permission from the copyright holder. When a consumer purchases a copyrighted item, they obtain the right to resell it, gift it, or lend it to others because the ownership of the physical item is separate from the copyright ownership.

2. How does the First Sale Doctrine affect the sale of copyrighted goods?

Under the First Sale Doctrine, once a copyright holder has sold or disposed of a physical copy of their copyrighted work, they cannot control subsequent sales or distribution of that copy. This allows a variety of marketplaces, such as used bookstores or second-hand shops, to sell copyrighted items without needing to obtain permission from the copyright owner.

3. Can the First Sale Doctrine be applied to digital goods?

The applicability of the First Sale Doctrine to digital goods is currently a subject of legal debate. Generally, the doctrine has not been applied to digital items, as digital files can be easily copied and distributed, potentially leading to piracy. Some countries and industries have developed their own rules and regulations to manage the distribution and sale of digital goods, often involving licensing agreements that restrict the transferability of digital items.

4. Are there any exceptions to the First Sale Doctrine?

Yes, there are exceptions to the First Sale Doctrine. One example is when copyrighted materials are rented or leased rather than sold. In these cases, the copyright holder retains control over the disposition of the items. The First Sale Doctrine also doesn’t grant the right to reproduce or create derivative works from a copyrighted item, as these rights are exclusively reserved for the copyright holder.

5. How does the First Sale Doctrine affect the relationship between copyright holders and consumers?

The First Sale Doctrine allows copyright holders to profit from the initial sale of their work while providing consumers with the freedom to use, resell, or share their legally acquired physical copies. This balance of rights helps to maintain a functioning market for copyrighted items and ensure that creators are fairly compensated for their work, while also allowing consumers to engage with and enjoy copyrighted materials without excessive restrictions.

Related Technology Terms

  • Copyright Exhaustion
  • Resale Rights
  • Intellectual Property
  • Content Distribution
  • Secondary Market

Sources for More Information


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