Library Lending Rights at Risk - Library Copyright Alliance Files Amicus Brief in Supreme Court Case, Costco v. Omega

July 8, 2010

The first sale doctrine is an aspect of copyright law that permits libraries to lend books and other materials.  There is some alarm that the right is being eroded in the arena of ebooks - as ebooks are subject to licenses that define whether and how the consumer may transfer or share ebooks.  The Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) announced today that they are filing a 'friend of the court' brief in the case of Costco v. Omega which may affect the first sale doctrine and the ability of libraries to lend - see full press release below.  The amicus brief may be found at: <>


Jonathan Band
Policybandwidth, LLC
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Jenni Terry
ALA Washington Office Press Officer
(202) 628-8410,<>

July 8, 2010

Library Copyright Alliance: Costco v. Omega may threaten libraries’ lending rights

WASHINGTON, DC – The Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) – comprised of the American Library Association (ALA), the Association for College & Research Libraries (ACRL) and the Association for Research Libraries (ARL) – today filed an amicus curiae brief<> (pdf) with the Supreme Court of the United States in support of petitioner Costco Wholesale Corporation in Costco v. Omega.

Omega, a luxury watch manufacturer, claims Costco infringed its copyrights by importing authentic Omega watches from abroad rather than buying them from the U.S. distributer at a higher price.  The LCA believes this case could diminish the legal provision that allows libraries to lend books.

The “first-sale doctrine” is the exception to the Copyright Act that allows any purchaser of a legal copy of a book or other copyrighted work to sell or lend that copy.  However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the first-sale doctrine applied only to copies manufactured in the United States.

In its friend of the court brief, the LCA asks the Supreme Court to reverse the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision and apply the first-sale doctrine to all copies manufactured with the lawful authorization of the holder of a work’s U.S. copyright.

“One may wonder why the major library associations felt compelled to weigh in on a lawsuit between a big-box retailer and watch manufacturer,” said Charles Lowry, executive director of the ARL.

“How the Supreme Court interprets the first-sale doctrine could determine the extent to which libraries can continue to perform their historic function of lending books and other materials manufactured abroad to the public.”

The LCA asserts that this case is critically important to libraries and their users because a significant portion of U.S. library collections consist of resources that were manufactured overseas.  More than 200 million books in U.S. libraries have foreign publishers.  Additionally, many books published by U.S. publishers were actually printed in other countries, and often these books do not indicate where they were printed.  If a book does not specify that it was printed in the United States, a library would not know whether it could lend it without being exposed to a copyright lawsuit.

“Unless the Supreme Court reverses the Ninth Circuit decision, the ability of libraries to lend a substantial part of their collection to the public could be jeopardized, and libraries could be inhibited from continuing their historic role,” said Mary Ellen Davis, executive director of the ACRL.

The LCA believes it is critically important for the court to recognize the impact this case could have on library services to the public and to consider possible solutions.

“For almost four hundred years, libraries in America have promoted democratic values by collecting and lending books and other materials to their users,” said Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the ALA Washington Office Sheketoff.

“The LCA has a responsibility to ensure that a court case among two private corporations does not strip away the fundamental rights of the public to lawfully access materials at their libraries.”


The Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) consists of three major library associations — the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, and the Association of College and Research Libraries. These three associations collectively represent over 300,000 information professionals and thousands of libraries of all kinds throughout the United States and Canada.

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