The First Sale Doctrine

Posted: 2 Jun 2010 Last revised: 4 Jun 2010

See all articles by Douglas Lichtman

Douglas Lichtman

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

Date Written: March 25, 2010


Copyright law’s first sale doctrine might seem straightforward. On its face, it tells us that, after the first sale of a particular object that embodies a copyrighted work, the copyright holder’s rights are exhausted, and the relevant embodiment is therefore free to flow in the stream of commerce. But what happens if the original buyer agrees by contract not to resell? And what if the original sale is not a sale at all, but instead is characterized by the parties as a license? And what if that embodiment is not physical but instead digital? In this podcast from, we set out to understand the first sale doctrine, tracing its public policy justifications and comparing copyright’s approach to that of antitrust. Guests include UC Irvine’s Tony Reese, Boston University’s Michael Salinger, and George Mason Law Professor Josh Wright. UCLA’s Doug Lichtman hosts. (You can access the podcast for free from the IPColloquium website.)

Keywords: copyright, first sale, intellectual property, antitrust

JEL Classification: K00, K11, O34

Suggested Citation

Lichtman, Douglas Gary, The First Sale Doctrine (March 25, 2010). Available at SSRN:

Douglas Gary Lichtman (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States
310-267-4617 (Phone)

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