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Copyrights Intellectual Property Internet Law Litigation

Fair Use, First Sale and Marilyn Monroe

Recently, the Southern District of New York resolved a question that neither the Southern District nor the Second Circuit had ever squarely faced: Can the lawful owner of an art object create and post a photograph of that object in connection with the sale of the object through an online platform such as eBay, without the permission of the owner of copyright in the object?

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The Southern District of New York recently resolved a question that neither the Southern District nor the Second Circuit had ever squarely faced: Can the lawful owner of an art object create and post a photograph of that object in connection with the sale of the object through an online platform such as eBay, without the permission of the owner of copyright in the object? The sale of the object is clearly permitted under the first sale doctrine, codified at §109(a) of the Copyright Act, but by its terms §109(a) only creates an affirmative defense to the distribution of the physical object itself: “the owner of a particular copy … lawfully made under this title … is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy.” The statute does not allow the making of a reproduction or a derivative work, such as a photo, or the display or distribution of such an image, and indeed courts (notably the Ninth Circuit) have sometimes found similar activities to be infringing.

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