The First Sale Doctrine in the Era of Digital Networks

R. Anthony Reese – “The First Sale Doctrine in the Era of Digital Networks”

This paper by a law professor from the University of California begins with the origins of copyright law's first-sale doctrine which stems from a 1908 Supreme Court case that allows the owner of any particular lawful copy of a copyrighted work to resell, rent, lend, or give away that copy without the copyright owner's permission. This has been the basis for the legality of library lending, though library lending was in existence for over a hundred years before that. The article concludes that the shift to digital dissemination may give copyright owners more complete control over access to copyrighted works and in particular may eliminate the preservation benefits of widespread distribution of copies that are legally and practically transferable under the first-sale doctrine. The article ends by suggesting some steps that might be taken.