The first sale doctrine says that a copyright owner gets to control only the first transfer of a particular physical copy of the copyrighted work. After that first transfer, the recipient gets to control that physical copy.
This is the doctrine in copyright law that allows you to sell used books and CD’s. It also allows you to sell someone else’s original art or a piece of apparel with a copyrighted textile design on eBay, craigslist, or Amazon.
Public Knowledge’s Position
This doctrine enters a grey area in the digital world, where people are more likely to purchase some sort of digital, software-like version of content, like downloading an e-book for their Kindle, an album from iTunes, or a video game on their XBox.
Another issue has also arisen in the area of foreign-produced works. Copyright owners are now asserting that the first sale doctrine only applies if the work was made in the US, but not abroad. The court case Kirtsaeng v. Wiley & Sons, Inc. , is one such example. The college student Supap Kirtsaeng realized that text books were being sold much more cheaply in Thailand, where his family is from. So they sent him copies of lawfully purchased books, which he then re-sold in the States and online. The book publisher, however, sued Kirtsaeng for violation of copyright, arguing that the first sale doctrine doesn't apply since the books were produced outside of the US.
Public Knowledge works to preserve the first sale in an era of digital ownership.
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For more information
- Read this blog post  on the social and PR aspect of companies digitally blocking the resale of video games
- Read: Software Companies Own Your Hard Drive: Ninth Circuit Rules for Formality Over Function 
- Read about our amicus brief in the Costco v. Omega case