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First-Sale Doctrine

January 25, 2012

By Jeff Grillo, Associate Director for Technical ServicesGrillo_bookstore.jpg

Have you ever purchased a used book?  Perhaps you bought a casebook for a class online via or Maybe you visited your local used book store.  Have you ever sold an old textbook that you no longer needed?  Maybe you listed it online or sold it back to the campus bookstore.  Biddle Law Library often purchases used books.  The used book market has helped the library to remain fiscally responsible, and still meet the research needs of the Penn Law community.Now here is a tougher question.  Are you familiar with the first-sale doctrine?  This doctrine is sometimes referred to as the “right of first sale.”  Copyright law protects the rights of individuals and businesses that want to sell books that they have already purchased.  In other words, there is no copyright infringement when a person or business resells a book that they previously purchased.  At that point, the first-sale doctrine kicks in.

If you would like to learn more about the first-sale doctrine, you might want to start with several recent journal articles.  For example, the article “Digital Book Distribution: The End of the First-Sale Doctrine?” published in Landslide (Volume 3, Number 5, May/June 2011) discusses digital book distribution as it relates to copyright law and the “right of first sale.”   Duke Journal of Constitutional Law & Public Policy Sidebar also discusses the topic in ”Lacking Swiss Precision: The First-Sale Doctrine in Costco v. Omega” (Volume 6, February 2011). This article covers the legal battle between Costco and Omega and alleged copyright infringement versus protection via the first-sale doctrine.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Grillo_Copyright in a Global Info Economy by J Cohen.jpgFor more in-depth coverage of this doctrine, look to Biddle’s monograph collection.  The library recently added two comprehensive books that focus on copyright and the first-sale doctrine.  The first book, Copyright in a Global Information Economy by Julie E. Cohen et al. provides a broad overview of the subject and cites specific cases as examples.  Another book, Software licensing: principles and practical strategies by Michael L Rustad, delves into the area of software, hardware, and intellectual property law.

Need additional pointers, please stop by the Reference Desk.  We are always glad to assist!