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Copyright & Fair Use: First-Sale Doctrine

Media Librarian

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Farhad Moshiri
Library-Room 205
Media Collection, Music Collection, Copyright. Library liaison to Music Department.

First-Sale Doctrine

The physical ownership of an item, such as a book, a CD, or a DVD, is not the same as owning the copyright to the work embodied in that item.

Under the first sale doctrine (section 109 of the Copyright Act), ownership of a physical copy of a copyright-protected work permits lending, reselling, disposing, etc. of the item, but it does not permit reproducing the material, publicly displaying or performing it, or otherwise engaging in any of the acts reserved for the copyright holder, because the transfer of the physical copy does not include transfer of the copyright rights to the work.

There is a common misunderstanding about the relationship between First-Sale Doctrine and Public Performance Rights (PPR).  For example, when an educational institution purchases a video recording from a publisher, the cost usually includes the fees related to PPR. It means that the institution has the rights to show the video program publicly (to the institution's community without charge) in contrast to other purchases that do not include PPR that means they can be shown only in face-to-face classroom setting or circulate (through the library) to the individuals belonging to the institution for home-use only.

Attention should be paid that in most cases (unless it is clearly stated by the publisher or copyright holder) PPR that comes with the first sale is not transferable. If the institution decides to withdraw the item and give it away to another institution or an institution receives a video recording through donation, or inter-library loan (ILL), the item no longer has PPR and the new owner of the item must obtain PPR from the publisher. Always check with the library to find out if a particular item has PPR before showing it to your institution's community.

Electronic Resources: Resources in electronic format (journals, ebook collections, streaming audio/video, etc.) that are subscription based are not governed by the First-Sale Doctrine. These resources are governed by Contract Law (licensing). In short, when paying for these resources, the buyer does not own the resources. The buyer is just licensed to use the resources.

On the other hand, if an ebook, or a video program is purchased as an one-time purchase like a print book, all the rules related to print books apply to it. You cannot make copies of the ebook file and sell or distribute them. You also cannot change its format such as print it or put it on a DVD and sell or distribute the print or physical format.

Staff LADR