"First Sale" is the name in US copyright law for the idea that owners of copies of copyrighted works have the right to re-sell, lend, give away, or even destroy their personal copies of works. The copyright holder's right to control the distribution of their work goes away after the "first sale" of the work. The "First Sale Doctrine" is codified in U.S. copyright law at 17 U.S.C. Section 109.
In other areas of law, such as patent law, this principle is called the "exhaustion" principle.
The relationship of the First Sale Doctrine to goods made out of the United States and imported is currently at the US Supreme Court, in the case of Kirtsaeng v. Wiley. A decision is expected in 2013.
"Digital First Sale"
While the First Sale Doctrine has traditionally applied to all copyrighted works, electronic works such as MP3s, ebooks, and videostreams have generally been treated as "licensed", not "sold", and thus not subject to the First Sale Doctrine. So even though a consumer "buys" an ebook, the First Sale Doctrine may not apply. Moreover, because electronic materials are generally copied when they are sold or distributed, rightsholders have argued that even if the First Sale Doctrine applies to digital works, the copies that are made when the items are transferred necessarily infringe their copyrights.
This issue is currently being litigated in Capitol Records v. ReDigi, and a decision is anticipated in 2013.
Last Edited: 2 February 2013