Certified Legal Translation Services, Copyright Law and the First Sale Doctrine

Certified legal translation services and legal interpretation services by court-certified interpreters play an important role in copyright infringement cases. The Supreme Court recently granted certiorari to consider whether the first sale doctrine is applicable to imported goods manufactured abroad within the context of copyright infringement. The first sale doctrine (17 USC section 109(a)) is a defense to a copyright infringement claim where the owner of the copyright consents to the first sale of its copyright work. However, there is question as to whether this defense applies when the copyrighted work is manufactured and first sold abroad.

In Omega v. Costco Wholesale Corp, 531 F.3d 982 (9th Cir. 2008), the Plaintiff’s copyrighted work was affixed to watches manufactured in Switzerland and first sold to authorized distributors abroad before being purchased by third parties before being sold to Costco. Omega sued Costco for copyright infringement once the watches were sold in the US, alleging that they had not authorized the sale of the watches domestically. Costco, in response, raised the first sale doctrine as its defense.

The court, on appeal, ruled for Omega, paying particular attention to the foreign language translation of the original agreement. According to the court, the phrase ‘lawfully made under this title’ used in the agreement gives first sale protection only to copies legally made and sold in the US. The court went on to explain its reasoning for restricting the doctrine so as to both avoid an impermissible extension of the Copyright Act extraterritorially and to avoid undercutting a copyright owner’s rights against unauthorized importation of copies of its work.

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