U.S. Supreme Court
Intellectual Property – copyright — first sale doctrine
The “first sale” doctrine applies to copies of American copyrighted works manufactured abroad.
Library associations, used-book dealers, technology companies, consumer-goods retailers, and museums point to various ways in which a geographical interpretation would fail to further basic constitutional copyright objectives, in particular “promot[ing] the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” Art. I, §8, cl. 8. For example, a geographical interpretation of the first-sale doctrine would likely require libraries to obtain permission before circulating the many books in their collections that were printed overseas. Wiley counters that such problems have not occurred in the 30 years since a federal court first adopted a geographical interpretation. But the law has not been settled for so long in Wiley’s favor. The Second Circuit in this case was the first Court of Appeals to adopt a purely geographical interpretation. Reliance on the “first sale” doctrine is also deeply embedded in the practices of booksellers, libraries, museums, and retailers, who have long relied on its protection. And the fact that harm has proved limited so far may simply reflect the reluctance of copyright holders to assert geographically based resale rights. Thus, the practical problems described by petitioner and his amici are too serious, extensive, and likely to come about to be dismissed as insignificant—particularly in light of the ever-growing importance of foreign trade to America.
654 F. 3d 210, reversed and remanded.
Breyer, J.; Kagan, J., concurring; Ginsburg, J., dissenting.