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Products for grant FA-251961-17

Intellectual Property Law and the History of the Narrative-Based Franchise
Gregory Steirer, Dickinson College

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The First Sale Doctrine and U.S. Media Distribution (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: The First Sale Doctrine and U.S. Media Distribution
Author: Gregory Steirer
Abstract: In 1909, the U.S Supreme Court, echoing the typical reasoning of earlier U.S. and British legal rulings regarding the distribution of media goods, held that a copyright holder’s distribution rights for any single copy of a media good are exhausted upon the first sale of that copy. Later codified as “The First Sale Doctrine,” this legal principle severely limited the ability of publishers and other content owners to control how the media goods they sold in the United States were priced, distributed, and consumed. This paper argues that the First Sale Doctrine has been the legal bedrock for two key features of twentieth-century media distribution in the U.S.: the retail store and what is usually called the secondary (ie. used) market. In enabling these institutions, the Doctrine has provided consumers broader and cheaper access to media goods while also fostering new forms of entrepreneurial activity and participatory culture. Drawing from legal cases, congressional hearings, and trade articles, this paper also demonstrates and accounts for the Doctrine’s surprising resilience throughout the twentieth century, during which time it had been the object of numerous attempts by American media companies to undermine or dismantle it. The paper concludes with an analysis of the Doctrine’s continued meaning and validity during the twenty-first century, particularly with respect to new digital distribution systems and restrictive Terms of Service licenses. Though the paper’s main emphasis is U.S. copyright law and distribution systems, brief comparative reference will also be made to Europe’s slightly different approach to the same legal issue.
Date: 04/19/2018
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Conference website
Conference Name: Media Industries Conference, 2018