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What Should I Know About the First-Sale Doctrine?

library permitted under the first-sale doctrine

When you create a work and own the copyright to it, you are entitled to certain rights and protections for that work. For example, if someone is using your work without permission, such as stealing your artwork and printing it on a tee shirt for profit, you have the right to halt the sale and recover damages. However, if you write a book, there is nothing stopping libraries from purchasing a copy and renting it to hundreds of patrons. This is allowed under a statute known as the first-sale doctrine. Keep reading to learn more about these limitations and discover how copyright infringement lawyers can help you navigate any issues that may arise as a result of the first-sale doctrine.

What Is the First-Sale Doctrine?

The first-sale doctrine is one of the first limitations creators or copyright owners will face in relation to their work. For example, if someone purchases your poem book, it is their right to destroy, damage, sell, lend, or dispose of that copy. However, it does not give them the right to make photocopies of the poems and sell them to others. Similarly, the first-sale doctrine only protects those who own a copy of the copyrighted material. For example, you cannot rent a textbook and then rent it to another party.

It is important to note that some third-party selling websites have limitations on the ability to sell products purchased from another company that you intend to sell under the first-sale doctrine. For example, you cannot buy books in bulk and sell them in a storefront on a website like Amazon. You are permitted to sell them but must list that they are “used” and “like new.” This helps prevent unauthorized sellers from receiving the same volume of sales that the authorized seller would receive. Sellers are also prohibited from insinuating any type of relationship or partnership with the brand, as this can mislead consumers into thinking the third-party seller is an authorized offshoot of the original copyright holder.

Are There Any Exceptions?

Though the first-right doctrine can protect the right of consumers, to an extent, there are also exceptions for specific works. Computer programs cannot be purchased and rented to secondary consumers, as computer software programmers have lobbied for their rental rights. This means they are the only people who can rent out their programs.

Similarly, the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) prohibits a collector of a one-of-a-kind or limited edition (consisting of fewer than 200 copies, all signed and numbered) from destroying the work without explicit permission from the artist. This is because any painting, drawing, print, or photograph is in limited copy that is mutilated or destroyed can harm the artist’s reputation. If a collector violates the VARA, the artist can sue for damages if they can prove their reputation has suffered.

If you’ve experienced issues as a result of the first-sale doctrine, such as losing profit due to someone who owns your product violating copyright laws, you’ll want to contact CopyCat Legal PLLC immediately. We can help fight for your rights as a copyright creator.

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