The Supreme Court clarified the “first sale” doctrine of copyright law with its decision in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons.  The first sale doctrine provides that a publisher only controls what happens up to the first sale of copyrighted material.  Once material has been sold, the publisher has no further rights relating to that copy.  This rule is the one that enables you to resell your used book, cd, or dvd to another person or store, and for that person or store to resell it again.

The issue in this case was whether the first sale doctrine applies to copyrighted works manufactured overseas.  Kirtsaeng bought textbooks in Thailand that were the same as the editions published in the United States and brought them to the United States where he resold them. The publisher, John Wiley & Sons, objected to this and argued that the first sale doctrine did not apply because while the materials were lawfully made under copyright, the first-sale doctrine only applied to material made in the United States.  Lower courts agreed with this argument and ordered him to pay damages.

The Supreme Court disagreed. The Justices held that the “first sale” doctrine applies to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad.  Since Kirtsaeng legitimately purchased books that were lawfully made abroad, he had the right under the “first sale” doctrine to dispose of the books as he chose.