The First Sale Doctrine and Reselling on Amazon and eBay

In today’s digital age, online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay have revolutionized the way we buy and sell goods. These platforms offer tremendous opportunities for entrepreneurs and individuals to start their own businesses or make some extra cash by reselling used items. However, as with any business venture, it’s essential to understand the legalities surrounding the sale of goods, particularly when it comes to the First Sale Doctrine. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the First Sale Doctrine, its implications for reselling on Amazon and eBay, and how you can navigate these platforms while staying within the bounds of the law.

Understanding the First Sale Doctrine

The First Sale Doctrine, also known as the Doctrine of Exhaustion, is a legal principle that allows the original purchaser of a copyrighted or patented item to sell, rent, or otherwise dispose of that particular copy without infringing upon the copyright or patent holder’s exclusive rights. The doctrine ensures a balance between the rights of the copyright or patent holder and the free movement of goods in commerce.

The Origin and Scope of the First Sale Doctrine

The First Sale Doctrine originated from a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus (1908). In this case, the Court ruled that once a copyright owner sold a copy of their work, they could not control the subsequent resale price or the right to resell that particular copy. This ruling laid the foundation for the First Sale Doctrine, which has since been extended to cover various forms of intellectual property, including copyrighted works and patented products.

Reselling on Amazon and eBay

Both Amazon and eBay have become popular platforms for individuals to resell used goods. However, it’s important to note that these platforms have their own policies and guidelines that sellers must adhere to. Let’s take a closer look at the rules and regulations for reselling on each platform:

  1. Amazon

Amazon offers two primary programs for resellers: the Individual Seller Plan and the Professional Seller Plan. The Individual Seller Plan is suitable for casual sellers who have a small number of items to sell, while the Professional Seller Plan caters to more established businesses with larger inventories.

When it comes to the First Sale Doctrine, Amazon recognizes the right of sellers to resell legally purchased goods. However, sellers must ensure that their products are genuine, in good condition, and not infringing upon any copyrights or patents. Additionally, sellers must accurately represent the condition of their items, refrain from listing prohibited items, and comply with Amazon’s policies and guidelines.

  1. eBay

eBay, similarly to Amazon, acknowledges the First Sale Doctrine and allows sellers to resell legally purchased items. However, sellers must abide by eBay’s policies and guidelines, ensuring that their listings comply with copyright and patent laws. Sellers are responsible for confirming the authenticity and condition of the items they list and should accurately describe any imperfections or issues.

Navigating the Legal Landscape

While the First Sale Doctrine provides resellers with a legal framework for selling used goods, there are still potential challenges and considerations to keep in mind. Here are some key points to navigate the legal landscape successfully:

  1. Authenticity and Legitimacy

As a reseller, it’s crucial to verify the authenticity and legitimacy of the products you’re selling. This includes sourcing goods from reputable suppliers, conducting thorough research on the products, and ensuring that they are not counterfeit or infringing upon any intellectual property rights.

  1. Accurate Descriptions and Disclosures

Provide accurate and detailed descriptions of the items you are selling, including any flaws or defects. Honesty and transparency go a long way in building trust with buyers and reducing the risk of returns or disputes.

  1. Intellectual Property Considerations

When reselling branded items, it’s essential to be mindful of intellectual property rights. Avoid selling counterfeit goods or items that may infringe upon trademarks or copyrights. Familiarize yourself with the laws surrounding intellectual property to minimize the risk of legal issues.

  1. Restricted and Prohibited Items

Both Amazon and eBay have guidelines on restricted and prohibited items that cannot be sold on their platforms. Ensure that your products comply with these guidelines to avoid potential account suspensions or legal repercussions.

  1. Copyrighted Media

While the First Sale Doctrine allows for the resale of copyrighted works, it’s important to note that some restrictions exist. For example, you may not legally sell unauthorized copies of movies, music albums, or software. Always review the specific copyright laws and consult legal professionals if necessary.


The First Sale Doctrine is a fundamental principle that allows individuals to legally resell used goods without infringing upon intellectual property rights. Platforms like Amazon and eBay provide valuable opportunities for resellers, but it’s crucial to operate within the legal boundaries and comply with their policies and guidelines. By understanding the implications of the First Sale Doctrine, verifying product authenticity, accurately describing items, and being mindful of intellectual property rights, resellers can build successful businesses while staying within the bounds of the law.