Costco v. Omega and the First Sale Doctrine

June 16, 2012

The first sale doctrine, simply put, is the principle that after the copyright owner has transferred a copy of the work, the new owner is free to do almost anything with the copy without the copyright owner’s consent. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held in Costco v. Omega that the first sale doctrine did not apply to imported goods manufactured abroad. The Supreme Court then granted certiorari, only to reach a 4-4 split decision. As a result of the Court’s split, the decision of the Ninth Circuit was de facto affirmed; however, the decision fails to set a national standard. This Recent Development explores the implications of the decision, specifically, the impact on the gray market, consumers, and the manufacturing industry in the United States, as well as the implications for the utility of copyright as an import control.