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Supreme Court Applies “First Sale” Doctrine to Imported Works

March 21, 2013

Summary: In a significant decision addressing the Copyright Act’s “first sale” doctrine and the ability of copyright owners to control geographic distribution of their copyrighted works, the Supreme Court recently construed the doctrine’s applicability to works manufactured abroad. Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., No. 11-697, 2013 U.S. LEXIS 2371 (March 19, 2013). The first sale doctrine, codified in 17 U.S.C. § 109(a), generally permits the lawful owner of a copy of a copyrighted work to resell or distribute that copy. In Kirtsaeng, the Court held that a work manufactured abroad can still be “lawfully made under” the Copyright Act, as that phrase is used in Section 109(a), and, therefore, a copyrighted work legally manufactured abroad and later imported into the United States can lawfully be resold in the United States.

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