Monday, January 31, 2011

Importing T-Shirts

Dear Rich: My wife and I have a small importing business. We have recently acquired some t-shirts and are wondering how to react to possible copyright. We are building a website for all our other hand-made goods and are wondering if we can put the t-shirts on there for sale. Are we on the hook for the copyright or is this like reselling an item personally purchased (aka that the assumption is that the copyright was paid by the original seller)? It all depends if the shirts are infringing -- that is, whether the shirts were authorized by the copyright owner.  The first sale doctrine permits you to resell authorized merchandise without any hassles. So if you buy 100 t-shirts that were authorized by Disney, Lady Gaga, or the NFL, you can resell them, no problem. Because infringing shirts are not authorized, their resale is not permitted under the first sale doctrine. The same rule is true for importing in general. You can import non-infringing t-shirts, but you're prohibited from importing infringing ones. As for your website, copyright law (see Section 113c) permits you to post images of the copyrighted merchandise in connection with the sale.