The First Sale Doctrine

Copyright law’s first sale doctrine might seem straightforward. On its face, it tells us that, after the first sale of a particular object that embodies a copyrighted work, the copyright holder’s rights are exhausted, and the relevant embodiment is therefore free to flow in the stream of commerce. But what happens if the original buyer agrees by contract not to resell? And what if the original sale is not a sale at all, but instead is characterized by the parties as a license? And what if that embodiment is not physical but instead digital? On this edition of the IP Colloquium, we set out to understand the first sale doctrine, tracing its public policy justifications and comparing copyright’s approach to that of antitrust. Guests include UC Irvine’s Tony Reese, Boston University’s Michael Salinger, and George Mason Law Professor Josh Wright. UCLA’s Doug Lichtman hosts.

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