This is the "First Sale" page of the "Copyright Basics" guide.
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Copyright Basics  

Basic information on copyright and copyright law.
Last Updated: Feb 6, 2015 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

First Sale Print Page

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Digital Millennium Copyright Act


First Sale Doctrine

The "first sale" doctrine says that a person who buys a legally produced copyrighted work may "sell or otherwise dispose" of the work as he sees fit, subject to some important conditions and exceptions. Section 109(a). In other words, if you legally buy a book or CD, "first sale" gives you the right to loan that book or CD to your friend. Libraries heavily depend on the first sale doctrine to lend books and other items to patrons.

The first sale clause was enacted during a time when most copyrighted works were produced in tangible formats that made such works difficult to reproduce accurately on a large scale. Now that many protected works are produced digitally, however, copyright owners have lobbied Congress for laws that directly or indirectly undermine the "first sale" doctrine.

Additionally, copyright owners are producing their works to include technologies that interfere with the "first sale" doctrine. Software companies also routinely attempt to avoid the first sale doctrine by characterizing their transaction with the purchaser as a license rather than a sale, via non-negotiable “shrinkwrap” or “clickwrap” agreements. As a result of these and other developments, librarians and consumer advocates fear that the additional laws and technology could be rendering the "first sale" doctrine irrelevant.

First sale issues are intertwined with licensing and Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA") issues

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