Court Rules Copyrighted Materials Made Overseas Can Be Resold in United States

By SEMA Washington, D.C., Staff

The Supreme Court ruled that books and other goods produced overseas can be imported into the United States without the permission of the copyright holder. The court was considering the sale of imported textbooks on eBay that had been produced for a different market and were being sold at a different price than in the United States. At issue was the “first-sale” doctrine, which generally allows owners of a product made in the United States to decide whether they want to resell the product. The question was whether the doctrine applied to goods made overseas. The Court ruled that the Copyright Act’s term did not specify geographic boundaries and, therefore, was not limited to the United States.

The first-sale doctrine applies to trademark law as well, with one exception. The owner of a U.S. trademark registration may bar the unauthorized import of “gray-market” goods sold outside the company’s normal distribution channel if the trademark owner’s overseas product has a physical and material difference tailored for a particular foreign market.  

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