Supreme Court: You Bought It, You Own It, You Can Resell It

First Sale Doctrine Resale Rights

This past week the United States Supreme Court decided a case that reinforced the right to re-sell something that you had lawfully bought.

Now — you might be wondering what’s so earth shattering about that.  After all, hasn’t that always been true?  You own an iPad and want to get a new tablet instead?  Just sell the old iPad or donate it or recycle it — because it’s yours and you can do what you want with it.  Bought a book and no longer need it? You sell that, too. Right?

Here in the States we have something called the “first sale doctrine.” It simply means that once a tangible copyrighted work (or something with copyright in it) is sold lawfully the first time, the original copyright owner no longer has rights over the physical item. After that, the buyer can do whatever he or she wants with it — sell it again, donate it, whatever.  That’s why you can legally hold a yard sale or sell computers on eBay. The resale right applies only to the physical item sold, not copies.

Most of us take resale rights for granted.

But that right to resell copyrighted items had been challenged in court.  The Supreme Court’s decision this week reaffirmed that owners have resale rights, as Daniel Fisher writes in Forbes:

The U.S. Supreme Court today settled a long-simmering debate over the Copyright Act by holding that publishers can’t prevent the resale of books they produce overseas in U.S. markets.

The decision in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons is a victory for Supap Kirtsaeng, a student who was fined $600,000 for importing Wiley textbooks from his native Thailand, where they were cheaper, and selling them in the U.S. It’s also a victory for libraries and retailers like eBay, who argued the “first sale” doctrine — giving owners of published books and recordings the right to sell them to whomever they want — should apply to imported works as well as U.S. publications.

The lawsuit related specifically to U.S. copyrighted items manufactured outside the United States, but re-sold or disposed of inside the U.S.

The Owners’ Rights Initiative hailed the decision as a victory for individuals, organizations and businesses.  The Initiative is an advocacy group founded to protect owner’s rights to buy and sell authentic goods.

Their motto is: “You bought it. You own it. You have a right to resell it.” (Image above)

The Owner’s Rights Initiative says you should be permitted to resell something you’ve legitimately purchased, no matter where it was manufactured.  While the court’s decision puts to rest one attack on resale rights, the group believes  there could be other legal attacks in the future.  Said Lauren Perez of the American Free Trade Association, in a video on the Owner’s Rights site:

If you buy it you own it. If you paid for it, it’s yours. You shouldn’t have to go ask permission of anybody to resell it.  You shouldn’t have to worry about being sued for copyright infringement because the original copyright owner or manufacturer doesn’t like you being the person reselling it… doesn’t want you to realize a profit from your original investment.

The Owner’s Rights Initiative is backed by groups  like eBay, Etsy, Overstock, the American Library Association, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, and even the popular used/out-of-print bookseller Powell’s Books.

Below is the Supreme Court’s decision (only the 4-page summary, also known as a syllabus):

Image credit: Owner’s Rights Initiative

This article was updated to clarify that resale rights do not apply to copies illegally made of a copyrighted item.


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

96 Reactions
  1. Thank you for your write up on this subject

    • Yes thanks!

      I can understand why you had to update to tell some that it doesn’t apply to copies. One would think that a reasonable intelligent person would realize the difference between having paid for an item and not.

      Clearly if you purchased one.. You own one not five. How hard is that? It seems to require crap load of people to explain that concept.

      If you really want to sell copies of something you purchase that right from the owner to do exactly that. Guess what, there are still rules to you agree on in a contract. Honestly, unless you negatively impact the owner with how you market the copies they would likely be okay with having an agreement to allow it if they can profit. If they are a publisher good luck as they would have normally gotten an exclusive contract to produce.

      • Jonathan Mcallister

        Jack you are wrong bud. Most of the time when you purchase one you get a hard copy and a digital copy so you own two.

  2. Thanks for the info! I’m assuming (without reading the syllabus) that this only applies to physical goods and not digital content. Can you comment on this?

    • Digital content (and other intellectual property) is licensed — not sold, so while first sale doctrine says you can sell the actual music CD you purchased — you can’t sell or give “copies” of the CD, nor can you legally sell the original CD and then keep a digital version on your hard drive for yourself.

      • Yes, but isn’t the license itself a form of property? If I buy a license to play a video game or listen to a song, then I own that license and should be able to transfer it to someone else in exactly the same way that I can transfer a CD or DVD to someone else.

      • A license for intellectual property is not property — it’s a legally binding contract between you and the licensor. You can’t transfer it to someone else. THEY need to purchase their own license to use. Under “First Sale Doctrine” — while you may be able to give someone the actual CD or DVD — it would be breaking the law to first burn yourself a copy. You can see why these laws are important for creators — Realistically, how many users are respectful enough of the rights of the artist to not take advantage of the simple ways to both keep for yourself AND give away digital media?

      • Jonathan Mcallister

        You are also wrong when I purchase an item that comes with a digital copy and a hard copy. I can give away the hard copy but cannot give away the license. In other words I am still licensed to use the digital copy that I paid for even though I gave away the hard copy. The license cannot be transferred so where does it go if I give away the hard copy?

  3. Well, I’m glad to hear that we do have the right to resell our property. It would be pretty lame if we didn’t. Thanks for sharing.


  4. I hope this doesn’t get misinterpreted by people, although I am sure it will be. This does not mean once you buy an item it is yours to do with it as you please. You still cannot copy CDs or DVDs or art prints and resell them, you still cannot take an image, digital or rubber stamp and resell the image. You do not own the art on these items, and while you may resell the item you purchased you cannot use it to produce more to sell, unless of course you have the owner’s permission. I just hate to see people assume that.

    • Hi Michelle,

      Yes, the Supreme court case and the owner’s rights initiative are about selling items you lawfully purchased and own. When you lawfully purchase one music CD or one film DVD, that’s all you can resell — the one item you purchased.

      The Supreme Court did NOT say one could make illegal copies and would own those. Let’s take an example:

      If you purchase one CD, DVD or artwork legitimately, and then make 5 copies of that same CD, DVD or artwork — without express permission to reproduce copies — you don’t lawfully own those extra 5 copies. Since you have no lawful rights in those bootleg copies of the CD, DVD or artwork, you have no rights to sell them. (Not to mention that you’re breaking the law by making bootleg copies without permission in the first place.)

      One final point: anyone with specific questions about their own legal rights should contact an attorney, and not rely on a news article like this for legal advice.

      – Anita

      • ” (Not to mention that you’re breaking the law by making bootleg copies without permission in the first place.)”

        I thought that copying alone was not what made something a bootleg. I mean, if I copy a CD I bought to have a backup on my hard drive – not to distribute, or anything – that’s not the same as what most people think of when they say “bootleg” – making fake copies, selling them, etc. Have I been off, or has the world gone Topsy-turvy?

      • ok I got that. What if i was to buy a plant pot, paint it and sell it. Is that ok? Sorry I know that this post is old.

      • Is this still the current law? We would like to purchase paper products, and include them as part of a package to resell. Do we need to obtain permission from supplier?

      • Thanks, Anita for the write-up and further clarification here. The uploaded judgement is actually the complaint but no worries I will pull out the judgement for my read. Also, I believe this can also support cases which are pertaining to trademark infringement and quality check authorized seller which is just strategy adopted by big businesses to bully small resellers on marketplaces. Please be free to share if you have any other articles on those. Thanks

  5. Good to see how this turned out in favor of owners’ rights. I am still a fan of owning a physical hard copy of software just for the fact that it can be resold easily when I no longer use it.

  6. So if i have “fitness” dvd i paid for does the company have the legal right to force me into a contract not to resell? Is it legally binding?

    Ex. Piyo, zumba, les mills, ect. If i buy it then why does ebay say its copywright infringement…..and yes its a physical dvd

    • Jona,

      Not sure of the facts in your situation, but one possibility is that it may be a bootleg version. If it was illegally copied to begin with, then it’s infringing. Without knowing the exact facts, it’s hard to say.

      With the exception of prohibiiting the sale of bootleg or illegal versions of a DVD, it appears eBay is allowing hundreds of thousands of used DVDs to be sold. I just checked and there are over 500,000 listed on the site for sale.

      – Anita

  7. Thanks for the info! I have someone on eBay watching an listing I have (something that I bought from this person. They are sending me messages stating that the “lovely (item) should have gone to someone that would have enjoyed it & appreciated it”. It didn’t sell the first time around, so I re-listed it. This person keeps watching it. It’s a bit creepy.

  8. Hi, what happens if the item has multiple pieces, a double album for example, or pages in a book. Can you resell the original item in pieces without additional copyright, and can you post photos of the piece in order to resell it. Does I own it, I can resell it cover that?


    • Mary Kay,
      This is very similar to the questions that I have asked and even though you asked it over a year ago, I see no one seems to be able to give an accurate answer to this question.

      • Does this apply to the selling of products such as Avon, Mary Lay, Tupperware, etc on eBay? I’ve been seeking something from a direct marketing company. I purchased it legitimately and am selling on eBay . I got a letter in my email (thinkingknf they got my email from the receipt on PayPal) stating they are going to sue me if I do not remove items. I take my own pictures and write my own descriptions. Do they have a case against me ?

  9. Hello. Thanks for the info. Was wondering if you purchase something and resell it at a profit often should you be keeping track of the income to claim on taxes? And if you are selling for a profit do you need to charge sales tax? Thanks

    • Hi Brandi, Let me give an off-the-cuff answer, with the proviso that you check with your tax advisor for the answer that applies to your situation.

      Generally speaking, you have to report all income, and that includes gains on the sale of an item. That’s the general rule.

      However, let’s say you sold only one thing during the year and it amounts to $20 in net gain. Will it even make a difference on your annual tax liability? For $20 probably not.

      But change the numbers or the facts a bit, and the rules get really tricky, really fast.

      What if the amount is more than a “de minimis” amount? What if you’re talking hundreds or thousands of dollars of net gain? And what if you sell more than one item during the year and have a gain on each? What if you sell more than one item during the year, and have a gain on some things but a loss on others — do the losses cancel out the gains?

      And it quickly raises other questions. Then you have to look at whether the activity is a business or hobby, to see what expenses and losses can be deducted. Is your sales activity a hobby? The IRS has specific definitions of what constitutes a hobby. Or is your activity a business? Did you have other expenses to deduct? Have you made enough profit under IRS rules to deduct any losses that can be offset?

      There are many questions to be answered, and each situation has to be looked at individually. That’s why I’d say if it’s more than a tiny amount such as $20 gain, it needs to be examined further.

      Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful, but that’s the tax law for you.

      – Anita

      • Hi Anita, I am an author who produced a children’s book with a business partner. She cut me out of the business, has possession of the books, and is selling them retail and online.
        I put a lot of money into the book and
        I am getting no compensation or royalties and I own the copyright. What can I do?

  10. Anita,
    I would like your opinion on publishers who sell exclusively to schools and school districts. Could you argue that if a teacher has a book that she got or took from the school, and now has it posted for sale, that she did not purchase it, and therefore doesn’t have the right to sell it? Or my second scenario is that UPS sends things lost in transit to auctions where book sellers buy it. If the material was never written or intended for public use, and are consumable student editions meant for schools only, can the bookstore legally resell them?

  11. I don’t know if anyone here can help me, but I have been quite confused with this whole Copyright thing. Since this article is so straight forward and the comments have been also I’m hoping I can get an idea of … well, I’m not sure what.
    Here’s my predicament.
    I’m an artist, I paint for a living. Now there are photographers out there who take pictures for a living. Some of these photographers sell their photographs with the express intention of letting people use their photos for artistic reference.
    Now if I were to make paintings off these photographs and sell these paintings would this be copyright infringement, even though the original photographer sold thee photographs for the purpose of them being used in other artists work.
    Also, is this right to make pictures, sculptures what have you, off these photographs denied or automatically revoked if the photographer suddenly say withdraws said photographs from his site and says that he does not want them to be sold any longer, nor used?

    Thankfully this has not happened to me yet, but I signed up/onto a site where some of the artists had been burned pretty badly like this and were encouraging eachother, saying it was okay for them to sell what they had already created.
    I was not so sure and decided I’d ask before I went so far as to plop down quite a significant amount of money to anyone for anything. I’d rather rely on my own poor camera and photography instead. =-/!

    Anyway, an answer of any kind would be nice and MUCH Appreciated.

    Thank You

    • Each photographer should have their Terms of Use on the site where you found their work. Usually you will get all your questions answered there. If you are in doubt and need permission for a particular use, just email the photographer and request clarification. They will let you know whether it’s okay or not. Never “assume” you can do something — each photographer has their own licensing terms.

  12. Hi,

    I would really appreciate clarifictaion here as I am also confused. I bought a book in 2007. I am in the UK. The publisher is in the US. I was about to put the book on ebay when I saw this on page 1…
    “This book is sold for the use of one person and cannot be shared, resold or reproduced without written consent of the author and publisher (named). Anyone whoviolates these terms wilbe subject to a monetary penalty of $100,000 payable to the author by a court of law.This includes reselling this huide on Ebay or any other website or offine business”
    Am I correct in that I can actually legally sell it?
    Thank you,

    • In the US, the “first sale doctrine” holds that once a tangible copyrighted/trademarked work is sold lawfully the first time, the original copyright/trademark owner no longer has rights over the physical item. After that, the buyer can do whatever he or she wants with it — sell it again, donate it, whatever. That’s why you can legally hold a yard sale or sell computers on eBay. The resale right applies only to the physical item sold, not copies.

      The Supreme Court upheld this doctirne recently in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, however, you (and they) are bound by UK law as that is where you are. Their “disclaimer” affects neither US nor UK law concerning resale of original individual owned items.

  13. What about digital coupons that only give access to 1 print. (Like the ones on If I pay for a membership that gives me access to digital coupons can I resell the digital coupons seperately for a profit. Each one would be the original since the software only allows for one print. I would not be able to keep a copy for myself because of this software and it would not in any way be a copy of the original. I would use a program like snagit and print the coupon to snagit instead of my printer than email it to the customer. Since the software only allows for 1 print of the coupon being sold and each coupon has different redemption codes, Im not sending a copy but the actual coupon itself. Would this still be protected under the act above. Please help me out with this Mo, and thank you so much for your great article its really helped clear up a lot so far.

    • Hi Cody, You’re really stretchhhhhhhhing things there!

      No, I don’t think multiple copies of a coupon are protected — that’s my personal opinion.

      People are confusing the word “copy.” You can’t make photocopies or digital copies of copyrighted items on your own, and try to get multiple items out of them.

      The original case was about being able to re-sell the one item — a single item — you paid for. It was not about replicating that item through copying it, so that you can have multiple items.

      But again, that’s my personal opinion.

      – Anita

      • Hi Anita,
        Im actually not talking about multiple copies. I’m talking about if I have a membership to a website with high value printable coupons, and I sell only the coupon I am allowed to print no copies. Say for example I printed the coupon than mailed it to the customer. Again no copies the original coupon that I was given access to. Since the coupon has to be printed in order to be used and can only be printed once due to the software and separate redemption codes for each coupon are given it is not a copy but the original coupon being sold. Think about it like this, would a digital coupon be considered a digital product if it needs to be printed out to be used. Wouldnt this make it a physical product. Also the digital coupon membership comes with a book that you must purchase in order to use the digital membership which is also a physical product. Also if Im purchasing the membership and have access to a certain limited amount of coupons per membership, I would think that each coupon I have access as long as its not copied should be ok to be resold. Since technically this should not be considered a license but an actual product because of all the reasons above. So, in your opinion if they are not copies but original coupons, can they be resold. Thanks for your help so far Anita!!

    • I think this answers your question
      (from this website)

      Q Can I sell my extra coupons?

      A No, there is no legitimate way to sell your unwanted coupons.

      The sale or transfer of coupons is a violation of virtually all manufacturers’ coupon redemption policies. These policies are generally printed on the coupons or are available from the manufacturer upon request. Any sale or transfer voids the coupon.

      People purchasing coupons have often been associated with organized criminal activities. They often purchase the coupons as one aspect of a scheme to defraud the coupon issuers/manufacturers, usually by seeking to redeem coupons without purchasing any products. Individuals selling coupons to such crime rings have been charged with and convicted of criminal violations.

      • Ok, If this is the case. Then please tell me why websites like ebay are able to have thousands of people on their websites selling coupons. and many other sites have been in business for years and still run to this day. If they are breaking any kind of laws than how are they able to remain selling coupons. Also how does a book full of coupons differ from an actual book itself. How do the laws not apply to a coupon book but they do apply when it comes to an actual book. I think there is a lot of false information out there aimed at scaring people from selling coupons but I think If this was illegal in any way than it would not be aloud to keep going on right here in the United States on US hosted websites. Wouldn’t the huge companies have sued these coupon sellers long ago and most important WON their case if this can be stopped. Their is no law that says it’s illegal to sell coupons and what I want to know is why? Is it because of this law protecting it. “the first sale doctrine” and what makes a physical coupon book and different from any other book. Doesn’t the company selling the coupon book give up rights to the coupons in the book once its sold? Isn’t that what this law protects? I think a lot of people are being misled when it comes to the selling of coupons and this needs to be cleared up so people can make an accurate decision based on fact instead of here say put out by these big companies who don’t like it. So if anyone can answer the questions I’ve asked both myself and thousands of others would be grateful for an accurate answer. 1. Is it illegal? 2. Can you be sued for selling a companies coupon (not copies) but the actual coupon? 3. What would be the grounds of the lawsuit? 4. Why is a coupon book different from any other book if it is a physical book? 5. If you can be sued for selling coupons than why can I not find one case of this happening if its been going on for so long? 6. Doesn’t this law protect the resale of physical goods once they are sold, which would be a coupon book 7. Why does no one seem to have an actual answer to this question, Only lines they’ve read from websites with no actual factual basis? If anyone can answer these questions in detail I would be highly grateful along with the thousand of others who have asked these same questions. If you have an answer please include facts (the actual law that says its illegal). A case were someone has been sued over selling coupons and lost. The truth is I think its a thorn in the side of big companies and although they may not like it, There seems to be something stopping these companies issuing the coupons from taking companies like ebay and to court.

  14. For example to make it easier to understand. If I buy a membership to a coupon website for $20 that say gives me access to 1,000 high value coupons. It only allows me to print 1 of each coupon so 1,000 separate coupons. If I sold each coupon for a dollar, no copies but each of my 1,000 coupons that I have access to print and made $1,000 dollars from my 1,000 coupons that I have access to, (not 10 of each coupon or multiplying each coupon, just one) than shouldn’t this be ok since they are not copies?

  15. Also Please do not give me links to articles to people who have been put in jail for selling fake coupons What Im talking about is the sale of real legitimate coupons (not copies) put out by the companies. I cannot find one case of someone even being sued let alone put in jail for selling real coupons. So again Please answer my last post with factual basis, real court cases, and not information written by someone who is expressing there opinion instead of solid fact.

  16. Response to Mo,

    No, there are good reasons not to purchase coupons. In addition to being in violation of the manufacturers’ policies, it simply does not make sense to pay for something that is given away for free.

    Coupons being sold on the Internet or by other means may be stolen property or counterfeit. Individuals attempting to use these coupons may be subject to prosecution.

    From same website CIC, Notice how its says good reasons not to purchase coupons like “it simply does not make sense to pay for something that is given away for free.”

    These coupons I’m talking about are not free, they must be purchases in coupons books. Many people do not want to buy the whole coupon book and only want the discount they need. Notice how it doesn’t say it’s illegal, just against manufacturer policy. I’m actually talking about coupons for things like attractions and food, not products. Also notice how they try to mix the wording in to make people scared of accidentally buying counterfeit or stolen property coupons.

    If you take a sunday paper from someones door step yes now your selling stolen property but If you buy a coupon book, seperate the coupons and sell them individually. Now were not talking stolen property, coupons given away free, or copied or fake coupons. Were talking about actual coupons the company has put out for sale in coupon books.

  17. “It wasn’t so much that we had to find the safe, just wait a long time for the Redditor to come back and tell us what was inside it.”

  18. WOW! The above comment from Cody brings up some very valid points. I too have thought about this same question if coupon selling is illegal or not. What Cody is saying is completely true, people like Mo just spout out false information because they trust what they think is authority like the CIC or coupon information center which is ran by the exact manufactures that dont like the resale of coupons. I am so glad you shut everyone up about this topic Cody. There is not one person that replied to your comment because everything you are saying is true and they cant contend with it. I didnt see Mo replying back saying your wrong because he knows what you said is true. He gave you a paragraph from what he believes is an authoritive website without doing any of his own research first and you just made him look very foolish with your reply. THANKYOU CODY, there are to many people misleading the public and we need more people like you putting them on the spot and calling them out. COUPON SELLING AND BUYING IS 100% LEGAL, NO LAWS AGAINST IT, and its 100% obvious that this is an urban legend put out by the coupon manufactures themselves, (THE OWNERS OF THE CIC website Mo blindly mentioned as proof of what he thought he knew). MO YOU ARE WRONG, You should never answer someone without really knowing what your talking about first and I am so glad Cody put out the Truth about the Coupon industry.

    • Connie, I didn’t reply because I’ve already said my piece and a back and forth isn’t going to help anyone who is intent on exploitation. Just because someone gives you an answer that you “wish” to hear doesn’t mean it’s right. The Coupon Information Corporation is made up of a huge number of large companies — who have lawyers advising them which is why they are a site you should heed.

      • The CIC may be made up of a huge number of large companies, however, his main intention is to get companies to use his HOLOGRAPHIC logos to ensure coupons are valid and makes them harder to duplicate correctly. There are many many companies out there that chose not to have some of the “faked” coupons listed there due to this reason alone. The CIC is a joke in itself. Yes, selling coupons, or copies of coupons is illegal. Many websites get by with selling coupons, because they state they are giving you the coupon, you are paying for their time on clipping, sorting, and shipping them. This in itself has been debated for years on weather it is legal or ethical. To each their own i guess.

  19. I hope this doesn’t get misinterpreted by people, although I am sure it will be. This does not mean once you buy an item it is yours to do with it as you please. You still cannot copy CDs or DVDs or art prints and resell them, you still cannot take an image, digital or rubber stamp and resell the image. You do not own the art on these items, and while you may resell the item you purchased you cannot use it to produce more to sell, unless of course you have the owner’s permission. I just hate to see people assume that.

  20. Got a question about all this I bought a Zumba Advanced DVD from a thrift store and put it for sale on my EBay store ebay in turn suspended my account saying it was a violation of intellectual property this is a legal copy of there Zumba Merchandise produced in 2002 did in fact Ebay violate first sale doctrine and the very thing they say there fighting for

  21. If you buy a piece of clothing that is on sale and sell it for retail is that illegal? Let’s you buy alot of one particular brand on sale and sell it online on ebay, can you get in trouble? Would you have to say “I am not a distributor or affiliated with this brand” in order not to get in trouble? Thank you

  22. I have a question, I crochet items to sell, if I were to buy soap from somewhere, crochet a body scrub soap holder item around the soap and then sell it, would that be illegal?

  23. i make earings from gautar pics that i purchase from businesses with thier logo. is it legal to sell them?

  24. This has been one of the best articles I’ve read, thank you so much for taking the time to post it. I ran an internet shop where by I was re-selling licensed character beach towels that I was buying through several different “Box Store” companies. I have been buying and selling on the internet for over 10 years and never had a problem. Recently several of my items were taking down siting Intellectual Property Infringement. Apparently, because I offer free monogram to these “branded” beach towel I’ve been breaking the law by personalizing them. My towels all sell below the manufacturer’s list price so it’s not like I am realizing huge profits from my sales. Can you shed any light on this issue for me. Thanks.

  25. If I purchase collegiate fabric i.e. fabric with a licensed print like the Georgia bulldog or “G’ and transform it into something else e.g. make a scarf. Can I legally sell the scarf?

    • I was hoping you got a answer, say with Disney embroidery designs you are not allowed to make as a gift and give away, I was wondering if the same applies too fabric?

  26. My husband and I have a hobby. He is retired. We like to go to storage unit auctions every now and then. Usually a couple times a month. We resell items in our yard as a yardsale. The town we live in is small and the city does not know how to handle our situation. They are looking into the law on this matter. I have offered to buy a license but they refused me one although we live in a zoned area for a business. Is this illegal to sell in my yard twice a month as a hobby? Thanks.

    • My city has a limit of twice a year garage or yard sales. What is your town’s limit? How about setting up your own thrift store?

  27. If I have a candy store and I buy Disney character merchandise from a legit wholesale supplier, can I sell those in my store? Or do I need to get a license to sell them?

  28. I work for a johnson and Johnson family company called Noramco. On the side, i was interested in a business a friend told me he engages in, whereby, i would post ads such as “sell me your diabetic test strips”. I havent bought or sold any, but my question to you is: Would this be considered illegal activity if i bought diabetic test strips, and resold them? (…i recently found out that Johnson and Johnson also distributes diabetic strips(not the particular company i am associated with, but part of Johnson & Johnson), i was unaware of this, but would that play a part in any of this as well). Was my posting these ads illegal?

    – Thanks

  29. Stephen M Carpenter

    This has probably been ask and answered.When you buy a copyrighted item say a decal from a company and they sell it to you willingly,How is it that you can’t sell that item on a mirror or board for a profit without infringement problems.I make Cornhole games using NFL decals and have gotten a desist notice.

    • Taking a stab here, it sounds to me like the issue is not one of copyright, Stephen. More likely, it’s about trademark. The NFL is likely claiming you are infringing their trademark for your own gain to sell your product. It’s not about re-selling the decal per se, but how you’re using that decal in your own products for commercial purposes. They require that anything with their logos that is sold for gain, be licensed for a fee and be subject to their rules for how their trademarks are displayed. At least, that’s my best guess about why the NFL would object. There are a whole range of legal causes of action relating to trademark rights, logo licensing and similar legal issues. Had you attempted to re-sell one single decal that you legally purchased — a decal that was not applied to a new product you created — I think you’d be on much stronger ground.

      – Anita

  30. Hi there, So if I brought a physical Item (Not hardware or a Cd) Lets say clothing or makeup or baby items. I am able to resell it?

    • In general, the answer is “yes.” You can resell most physical things, unless they are illegal or prohibited. For instance, firearms may be prohibited from sale unless you have a license. Counterfeit goods may be smacked down by the brand owner because they violate legal trademark rights in the first place. Some things may not be saleable due to public health issues (such as certain types of food or beverages). And so on. You always have to consider other laws and legal implications that may impact resale, of course. Not just copyright issues.

      – Anita

  31. Would a person be able to buy clothing at retail price, then open a online shop themselves and rent said legally purchased clothing for a profit?

    • Yes, of course, Rebecca. Re-sale shops are all over the place. No reason you couldn’t “rent” the clothing.

  32. I am sorry I wanted to read through all the comments but is it ok for me to re-sale an item I bought in a gift basket ?

    • Linda, in “general” it’s OK to re-sell items you own. There are some exceptions, such as where health and safety laws apply, or where other laws restrict an item. For instance, I am assuming you didn’t receive a firearm in a gift basket, because if you did, there may be restrictions on reselling a firearm in your jurisdiction. There are restrictions that some sites like eBay impose on selling items coming from endangered species such as tortoise shell or ivory.

      Or if an item was a counterfeit knock-off, that could pose problems if it attempts to masquerade as the real thing.

      Or if you take a digital copyrighted item, such as a movie DVD, and attempt to make copies of that copyrighted item and sell additional copies, you will definitely run into problems if you are caught!!! In that case you aren’t re-selling the item — you’d really be making copies of the item and trying to profit from unauthorized copying. Copying a digital item is a BIG no-no.

      But absent special situations, in general you can re-sell a single item. For instance, if you’re talking about reselling a wicker basket at a house sale, or a decorative glass vase that was in the basket, no problem. Items like that can be re-sold readily.

      – Anita

  33. I’ve written a book that I had planned to self publish with a self publishing company. I used several movie quotes, lyrics from songs, and scripturs from the bible to tell my story. I had every intention of documenting and giving credit for the quotes – but I quickly found out that it’s not that easy. I found out that you need to get permission to use every movie quote or song lyric from the original owner / writer. My question is, if I purchased these self published books myself (not open them up to a retailer, the traditional way), would I be able to re-sell them? I’m talking about paying full price (myself) from from the publishing company I’m working with, then reselling them privately from that point. Based on the “you bought it, you own it, you can re-sell it” law, do you feel I would I be breaking any copyright laws at that point?

  34. How about reselling a open product. Like if I bought a bottle of lotion could I resell samples portions of it in jars for samples out of my bottle?

  35. Hi. If I buy a disney towel, then use parts of it to make clothing. can I resell them?

  36. I have an LLC, I also have wholesale accounts with nfl,ncaa, and some wholesale company that sells Disney, marvel, lol,etc items. I explained to them that i take the items, change them and resell as a craft, they say it’s fine since I already purchased the item and am selling as a legal business. Is this ip, infringement, or copyrighted issues that I could be looking at?

    • Vikram Singh Rana


      Thanks for the case study.

      I want to ask if a person buy Disney clothes directly and legally from the Disney licensed manufacturer, So,do that person need and permission or any authority from Disney to sale in the market ?? Please Advise.

  37. I bought 8 T-Shirts from a company on E-Bay. The shirts had a graphic picture of a Laser Sailboat on the back along with a Laser Logo on the front. Now I just had someone call me and told me to stop selling these shirts or he is going to sue me. “I bought the shirts from the original seller and that seller is liable for a Logo infringement not me.” The March 24, 2013 order of the Supreme Court covers that.

  38. Hello,

    My question is Products like Mary Kay, Shaklee, Amway, etc.. these products are sold by consultants, but many sell online. I do sell some online, not many, just enough for some extra money since my wife lost her job.
    I received an email from one of those companies stating if i didnt remove imediately they would sue me.. At first i wanted to remove all items and move on, but after reading some posts i understand that when i bought from them as distributor, i paid for the item and tax on them. i own the product and am selling the original item. i believe they can “cancel” my membership and not allow me to purchase from them again, but wouldnt think they would sue me over this.
    Is there a legal protection on this case?

  39. What I really need to know is if I can buy items from a place that seems pretty obscure, change the item so it is somewhat different and I would think more enjoyable, and then start a small business with this items, which may or may not fly. I wanted to give this idea a try because I was looking for this item and couldn’t find one unless I made it myself. My husband pointed out it would be a lot less trouble if I started with this company’s item (which I thought was the item I was looking for) and just change it to make it like I wanted it. Then I could sell these (maybe) to get back the costs of the machine etc I would need to make them. It is for children, so could the government step in and say it was unsafe and stop me? It would have snaps on it and I would put them on as well as I could, but would advertising an older age do it?

  40. If I purchase a product from my place of employment with my employee discount, can I resell it for a profit? Are there any legal ramifications involved in this kind of sale?

  41. Hello,
    Would the following scenario fall under the “Owner’s Rights Initiative”.
    I purchase a Disney book and I take a page from that book and make a Christmas ornament from it. I then place the ornament on Ebay and sell it. Would this be ok since I would be using a page from the actual book I bought and I would not be making copies.

  42. Okay, so if I have bought a curriculum guide, similar to a text book, non consumable, that I’ve used for a year, am I able to loan, give, sell it to someone else, even if the the publisher says I can’t? “This book is copyrighted, which means that unauthorized reproduction or sharing of the pages is prohibited.” I can understand that that would prohibit concurrent sharing, but if I am done with the program, then it seems by the doctrine of first sale, I’m legally allowed to dispose of it as I see fit.

  43. Lets say I buy a product like a special motor oil from a company in bulk, however I have another unrelated use for it. Can I repackage it in a totally different container and sell it as my own?

  44. Hi if i buy a moistruzing cream and mixed together with my own ingredients and my own label and bottle and sale it.It is legal or not?I hope i can get an answer.

  45. Hello,
    If I bought a stencil of a college logo, am I free to sell furniture that I have used that stencil to paint on the furniture?

  46. So how does this apply to NCAA licensed logos? For example, if I buy an NCAA decal logo, then use that logo on a tumbler, can I sell the tumbler?

  47. A friend of mine wants to buy used clothing, customize it and resell it under her own company name. If she buys a pair of Levi or Wrangler jeans, alters them, embroiders on them, etc., takes the tags out and resells them, is she covered under this Owner’s Rights Initiative?

  48. I sell videos using music purchased from various sites. I bill my clients on a separate line for the music and it’s the exact amount of the cost. My clients tell me what music they want and I find it for them. No matter how many times the song is used every client purchases it and I delete it from my hard drive once the project is complete. So if 10 people request “You raise me up” I purchase it 10 times. Is this legal?

  49. What if you buy an e-book and it’s downloaded to your nook or some device and you let someone read it out of that device? What about when someone buys the license to a textbook say and there’s a link they direct people to because it’s a PDF or something? They paid for the license to that item as long as it stays at the location it was paid for then what is the legality on that?

    It seems suspicious that an individual can’t use the product they paid for in the way they choose, especially if they’re not making copies, but if they buy it from the publisher directly in that format, it should still be constituted as they own it. Sounds like the law needs to be updated to meet the “changing technology” or we should stop using it for that until they quit being so ridiculous for how we use what we pay for.

  50. I list things on amazon and I get emails stating that I can not sale this item because they have a trademark and etc. So I’ve been taking down the item just not to cause a fight but now I’m just going to ignore them.

  51. So, let me ask this question. If I have purchased items from a Direct Sales company such as Melaleuca as a representative of their company and they have their money in their pocket and the said items are now in my possession, am I allowed to resell those items?

  52. I have a question. If a brand has decided to sell patches with it’s logo on it for the intent of those patches to be sewn or attached to other items like a jacket or jeans, and I buy a bunch of those patches, and I sew them on a bunch of jackets that I also bought, can I re-sell those jackets if I don’t mention the brand that is on the patch?

  53. I have purchased a few online business courses over the last year (access to a web platform, videos, articles, etc…), one time payments. Am I legally able to re sell those as I have since moved on and no longer use them? Just seeing if I would be able to recoup any of my original investment?

  54. I had a book that was over 40 years old I put on ebay. Ebay sent me a message they had canceled my auction as the publisher claimed they still owned the physical book even though I had purchased it.

  55. Hello, thank you for your article. This might be a redundant question but would I be able to use a mug with a liscenced image or brand such as a Disney mug or Pier One Imports container – make a flower arrangement in it, or add it to a gift basket- or create a gift basket using a basket with a proprietary logo on it for resale in an online or storefront business? I appreciate your time.

    • Jeana, This is a tricky question with different answers depending on the exact facts. You are really asking a trademark or licensing question.

      If you are selling a one-off flower arrangement, with a used Disney mug as part of it, you may be able to get away with it. I highly doubt that Disney cares about a one-off resale of a used item. You see branded items in antiques and consignment shops for resale all the time. Normally in those cases you are protected by the “first sale doctrine”.

      Even in those circumstances, if the picture of it appears online it may be flagged by some automated program that scours the Web looking for licensed items for sale. Who knows how Disney enforces things these days?

      Now if you plan to buy dozens or hundreds or thousands of Disney mugs and turn them into dried flower arrangements and sell them at scale, you definitely could run into trouble. It depends on a number of factors, including:

      • Are you a licensed reseller of Disney’s, etc.? If not that could be an issue. Brands like to tightly control who is selling their trademarked items.
      • Also, are you planning to sell on an online marketplace like Amazon? There have been many reports of sellers getting shut down on Amazon if they are trying to sell licensed items and they don’t have an agreement with the license holder or trademark owner. Amazon’s terms of service are pretty stringent toward protecting brand trademarks from fakes and unauthorized resellers. I have not heard those stories about eBay but I’d be willing to bet you’d run into the same issue there — or at any other online marketplace.
      • In addition, are you 100% certain of the source you are buying from? So you are not buying fakes? Because if you buy counterfeit goods, even innocently, you could well get caught up in a crackdown where counterfeit items are seized by law enforcement. Then you can kiss your money goodbye.

      These are the sorts of legal landmines you have to watch out for as a seller.

      I would most definitely contact an attorney who understands trademark law. Only an attorney can really advise you on a question like this that requires understanding all the facts and making a legal judgment.

      I would not like to see you end up losing money or suffer other serious consequences.

      Good luck!

  56. I don’t have a resell business. No reseller certificate, etc. Totally not interested in that; however, I am interested in buying overstock / bulk inventory every once in a while because I want many of the items/products myself and the price per item is super low.

    1. Can I legally purchase from these places (as an individual, not a business) if I’m keeping the items for personal use? I’ve been to several websites for these sellers and only find information for resellers who need to stock their own inventory. It appears I would pay the the sales tax but that’s fine.

    2. Some of these box inventories obviously have multiple pkgs of the same items (i.e. coffee mugs, twin sheets, ugly placemats, etc.) that I have zero interest in keeping. Can I legally sell those types of items on Craigslist or the LetGo app? Or donate them to places like Goodwill? There are some items I would just give away to friends and family, which I know is legal. But what about stuff nobody I know needs, like toddler clothing? I don’t want to charge full price or scam people. If someone else can benefit from items I don’t want, can I sell them even though I’m not legally a reseller?

    IDK if this makes sense. I just want to do what’s legal.

    Thank you to all who respond!

  57. Perhaps you can help me with an issue. Why are the intellectual property owners the owners when it is benefiting them but not liable when there is a liability? If somebody drops a truckload of fake “anything’s” on my front lawn, can I call the “anything” company up to come and pick up their property? When they say it isn’t their property, is that then permission to sell said fake “anything’s”? Why should I pay to dispose of their property? Furthermore, why should they be able to stand in the way of recycling? They must be wasted because they are “fake”. Let’s say it is 1000 knock off face masks that in actuality work fine: we are in the middle of a pandemic. Why should the human race be forced to suffer because the anything company says so? They say at once that A. They don’t own the masks B. They own the masks so they can’t be sold. Or am I wrong, and they’ll gladly come and pick up their garbage?

  58. Somebody tell this to Amazon, who won’t let me sell any brand-new-in-box items from my vast Lego collection!

  59. Hi, maybe you can help me, I make seasonal wreaths & have a horror icon range where I might add a mask & sign etc can I use the unofficial products that the cheaper shops get? Is it only the official trademark items that I shouldn’t use? For instance I bought a vacuum form Michael Myers mask to use and had a custom sign made for it, could I still get in trouble for that? I have also made a grinch one from a mask off Amazon , could I resell that as long as I didn’t call it grinch or is the face trademarked? I want to sell some at the markets but don’t want to bring these ones if I was to get in trouble for it, any info would b much appreciated

  60. Thank you for your article. Although resell rights were clearly explained, I would still feel better if you could confirm something for me… 20 years ago I worked at Warner Bros. for 13 years. During that time, I and a friend purchased a lot of entertainment collectibles directly from the studios. Recently that friend and I opened an online collectibles store where we are now reselling those same items. Is it accurate to say that based on the Supreme Court’s Owners’ Rights Initiative “You bought it. You own it. You can resell it”, I don’t have to worry about being sued for copyright infringement?