Monday, June 2, 2008
First Sale Doctrine: 100 Year Anniversary
On June 1, 1908, 100 years ago yesterday, the US Supreme Court decided Bobbs-Merrill v. Straus, a case that established what would become known as the “first sale doctrine”. This doctrine, now part of the US Copyright Act, allows the owners of books or other copyrighted works to dispose of them as they see fit (such as by reselling them, giving them away, or lending them out).
The copyright holder (author, publisher) can still control the right to make copies, make public performances, or other derivative works. But once a reader has bought a book, they can pass it along as he/she see fit. The first sale doctrine is what makes libraries (like Frazar) and used book stores possible without needing the permission of publishers to exist or carry out their missions.
The free access to literature that libraries provide, and the freedom to provide access to literature that the first sale doctrine provides, promote the literacy and education of all our citizens. So this is an anniversary and doctrine well worth remembering for its contribution to society.
Just last month a federal district judge in Washington State relied on the "first sale doctrine" affirming a person's right to sell used software on eBay. The case concerned an eBay merchant named Timothy Vernor who has repeatedly locked horns with Autodesk over the sale of used copies of its software. Autodesk argued that it only licenses copies of its software, rather than selling them, and that therefore any resale of the software constitutes copyright infringement.
But Judge Richard A. Jones rejected that argument, holding that Vernor is entitled to sell used copies of Autodesk's software regardless of any licensing agreement that might have bound the software's previous owners.
You can read the full article here