The Nine-Word Copyright Opinion: Costco v. Omega

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The Supreme Court heard the appeal of Costco v. Omega, a copyright decision from the Ninth Circuit regarding the application of the first-sale doctrine to a foreign manufacturer who did not manufacture the goods in the U.S. or sell the goods directly to Costco. The outcome? The Supreme Court’s entire decision (available for viewing here) consisted of nine words: “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.” No comment; no indication of how individual Justices voted; no precedential value. According to Answers.com, it may be the shortest Supreme Court opinion in history.

By way of brief history of the Costco v. Omega case, the Ninth Circuit found that the first-sale doctrine was unavailable to Costco as a defense to Omega’s copyright infringement claims (dealing with the distribution of copyrighted goods), allowing the foreign manufacturer of watches to use copyright law to stop Costco from selling its actual products (not knock-off products), originally sold to another party and resold to Costco, in the United States without Omega’s direct authorization.

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