Say you buy a pre-owned (second-hand) copy of a movie on a website like, say, Amazon.

AFAIK, no one who made the film or distributed it will ever see the color of your money, therefore, the prejudice and losses are comparable, if not worse (because they are a much larger scale system) to piracy. But Amazon, on the other hand, will make a profit.

Now, when you bought it brand new, there might even have been a message telling you to not resell it on the box or as a roll-up before the film. I understand that you shouldn't be able to resell, and that the user who would buy it would have to buy it new, which would make the distributors and the rights holders make profit (not sure what you should do with your copy though, trash it?).

And yet thousands of dollars (probably more) are made everyday by people and by amazon through the sale of second hand media (also books, audio tapes, etc). (And sometimes second-hand media sells for as little as 1 cent of a dollar on sites like these, which makes its price value even smaller for the sellers and the website, and the price difference for the buyer versus "buying new" impossible to fight.)

Yet, no one talks about this when people mention online piracy and circulation of copyrighted media that doesn't profit the copyright holders.

So, is there an understanding between Amazon and copyright holders that no one is aware of? Are second-hand physical goods not concerned by copyright laws? Is it impossible to enforce, and on what grounds? (every transaction has been recorded on a server and includes people's addresses, etc). Or is Amazon (and the likes, such as eBay, etc) such a giant and powerful company, that big media companies find it easier to target piracy websites "first" than these kinds of distribution websites?

  • possible duplicate of Is it legal in 2015 to buy second-hand vinyls?
    – Philipp
    Sep 9, 2015 at 7:54
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    Haha. I am the author of both questions, therefore in my head they are different :P and full disclosure I do not suffer from multiple personalities. One question is about music and vinyls and one is about large companies such as Amazon who sell worldwide, and not just music, and through which anyone can sell anything, thus being illegally acting on behalf of the online store (or not). Big difference IMHO. Sep 9, 2015 at 7:57
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    Re: "I understand that you shouldn't be able to resell, and that the user who would buy it would have to buy it new" - that understanding is incorrect I'm afraid.
    – A E
    Sep 9, 2015 at 17:07
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    "Yet, no one talks about this when people mention online piracy and circulation of copyrighted media that doesn't profit the copyright holders." - this is incorrect, it's been much discussed. Particularly by: artists whose early work increases in value (so they're still poor while the collectors get rich), and video game manufacturers.
    – egrunin
    Sep 9, 2015 at 17:59
  • @egrunin : I think you know what I meant. I meant large media companies are not after Amazon as much as they are after Kim Dotcom or Pirate Bay. If I'm wrong please give me a link to back yourself up... thanks Sep 9, 2015 at 20:20

3 Answers 3


Generally not. There is a notion in copyright law called the first-sale doctrine in which after a particular copy of a copyrighted work is legitimately sold, the purchaser can sell, lend, lease, give away, or otherwise dispose of the copy as he sees fit. Copyright does not give the copyright holder exclusive rights to authorize resales. See 17 U.S.C. § 109 for the relevant US law; in other countries the same principle is sometimes called exhaustion of rights.

There are limits to the doctrine. In the US, it does not allow for for-profit software rental (for most software) or musical record rentals. Moreover, software companies noticed the part where the doctrine applies to a transfer of title (i.e. an actual sale). If you read a typical software EULA, it is generally quite explicit that the software was licensed to you instead of sold; this is why. Courts in the US have often enforced these provisions (particularly if the license imposes limits like "you can't resell it"); European courts have, as far as I know, been far less willing to accept that argument. However, as a general rule resale is specifically not forbidden by copyright.

  • Thank you! Is this generally written on the product iteself, or conveniently omitted? But on this page some people say it was "never legal" to lend or lease previously bought material: law.stackexchange.com/questions/3404/… Sep 9, 2015 at 5:58
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    @fabriced A homemade recording is not a previously bought copy. The first sale doctrine covers the case where you sell the very thing you bought/obtained title to from the copyright owner -- the idea is that it doesn't produce a new copy, just lets you dispose of your copy. If you made the copy yourself, you're operating under another special exemption in copyright law (so there are restrictions); in this case, it makes sense to ban resale of self-made copies. As for written on product -- If a copyright holder wants to claim they licensed instead of selling, they must make that clear.
    – cpast
    Sep 9, 2015 at 6:11
  • If the product does not say it's a license, the implication is that they transferred legal title to the copy, and so the first-sale doctrine applies.
    – cpast
    Sep 9, 2015 at 6:14
  • @cpast: From what I understand, the purchased item and all copies made from it that are still in existence constitute "a unit" that must be transferred together. Destroying all copies made from the original and transferring the original would be legitimate, but by my understanding transferring the copies along with the original would be no less legitimate. For example, I've sometimes seen people offering to sell original media in obscure formats (e.g. 5.25" disk) along with a "courtesy copy" in a more modern format (e.g. CD-ROM); even if someone doesn't have a 5.25" drive, ownership of...
    – supercat
    Sep 9, 2015 at 17:14
  • ...the original 5.25" disk would grant one all the rights that would flow from the purchase thereof.
    – supercat
    Sep 9, 2015 at 17:15

As cpast wrote, if you purchase a copy, such as a book, or a pre-recorded CD or DVD, you can sell that copy or give it away. You can also lend it, but you may not lend software or music for a fee without permission. Nor may you play it for a sizable group, particularly not if a fee is charged.

However, if you record a broadcast for personal use, you may not sell that recording, nor give it away.


If anyone has a written statement of Payment made to the legal Distributor while buying the first hand copyrighted product, there is no problem to resale it on any online portal.

Hence it is very important for the buyer to check if the seller is legitimate.

  • This seems wrong. "If anyone" (does that mean that if I have it, even if you were the one who purchased it and I've stolen it from you?) has a "written statement of Payment..."
    – jimsug
    Oct 18, 2016 at 21:27
  • How will u get a written statement of any product that u have stolen ?? Are you talking about a Purchaser who is not literate enough to buy a smart phone ?? if yes then I am wrong. Nov 9, 2016 at 6:45

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