Bobbs-Merrill Company V. Straus Copyright Law

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Bobbs-Merrill was a book publisher that owned the rights to a book called The Castaway. Inside the book cover, they wrote a notice saying that the minimum retail sale price of the book was $1, and if a retailer sells it for less than that they are infringing the copyright. Straus was a retailer who bought copies of the book from a wholesaler and started selling them for 89¢. Bobbs-Merrill sued for copyright infringement. Bobbs-Merrill argued their ownership of the copyright gave them the exclusive right to distribute, and that meant that they could revoke Straus' right to sell the books at any time. Straus argued that they didn't buy the book from Bobbs-Merrill, they bought it from a wholesaler. Whatever deal Bobbs-Merrill might have made with the wholesaler didn't affect them because they were not in privity with any contract between Bobbs-Merrill and the wholesaler. The US Supreme Court found for Straus. The US Supreme Court basically found that copyright law gave the copyright owner the right to restrict others from making their own copies of a work. However, it did not give them any rights to control what happened to books after they sold them. This case described what is now knows as the first sale doctrine, and is codified in 17 U.S.C. §109(a). The first sale doctrine basically says that once someone buys a legitimate copy of a work, they can do whatever they want with it, including sell it to others, or lend it out, or whatever. They just can't make extra copies of it. The first sale doctrine is what prevents used bookstores and libraries from being copyright infringers. The first sale doctrine is sometimes known as the doctrine of

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