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United States v. Atherton

561 F.2d 747 (1977)

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United States v. Atherton

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

561 F.2d 747 (1977)

Facts

Section 104 of the Copyright Act of 1976 makes copyright infringement a criminal offense if done willfully and for profit. Raymond Atherton (defendant) was convicted for copyright infringement pursuant to § 104 for his sales of prints of several motion pictures. The copyrights for the motion pictures were owned by various production companies, none of which ever granted Atherton a license or permission to sell the prints. For all but one of the motion pictures, the production companies had entered into agreements with a television network by which the television network was granted the right to permanently retain copies of the motion-picture prints. Atherton appealed the conviction, arguing that the first-sale doctrine applied, which provides that the legal purchaser of a particular copy of a copyright-protected work is entitled to sell or transfer that copy without infringing the copyright regardless of the copyright owner’s persisting right of distribution. Atherton therefore argued that the agreements between the production companies and television network constituted first sales of the prints and, because the government (plaintiff) had failed to prove that the copies obtained and sold by Atherton were not copies from the first sales, the evidence underlying the conviction was insufficient. The government argued that no first sales of the prints had ever occurred and therefore that the prints sold by Atherton could not have been the prints subject to first sales.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Hufstedler, J.)

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