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The first-sale doctrine is a legal concept that plays an important role in United States patent, copyright and trademark law by limiting the rights of an intellectual property owner to control resale of products embodying its intellectual property. The doctrine enables the distribution chain of copyrighted products, library lending, giving, video rentals and secondary markets for copyrighted works (for example, enabling individuals to sell their legally purchased books or CDs to others). In trademark law, this same doctrine enables reselling of trademarked products after the trademark holder puts the products on the market. In the case of patented products, the doctrine allows resale of patented products without any control from the patent holder. The first sale doctrine does not apply to patented processes. The doctrine is also referred to as the "right of first sale", "first sale rule", or "first sale exhaustion rule".
The term "first sale" comes from the concept that the copyright owner's exclusive right to distribute a particular copy (such as a particular copy of a book) comes to an end when the copyright owner makes its first sale (of that book). After that initial transfer of title of the copy, the new owner of the copy can generally distribute that particular copy without further authorization of the copyright holder.
The first-sale doctrine is one of the limitations and exceptions to copyright.
Copyright law grants a copyright owner an exclusive right "to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending". 17 U.S.C. 106(3). This is called a "distribution right" and differs from the copyright owner's "reproduction right" which involves making copies of the copyrighted works. Rather than the right to copy, the distribution right involves the right to transfer physical copies or phonorecords (i.e., recorded music) of the copyrighted work. For example, the distribution right could be infringed when a retailer acquires and sells to the public unlawfully made audio or video tapes. Although the retailer may not have copied the work in any way and may not have known that the tapes were made unlawfully, they nevertheless infringe the distribution right by the sale. The distribution right allows the copyright owner to seek redress from any member in the chain of distribution.
The first-sale doctrine creates a basic exception to the copyright holder's distribution right. Once the work is lawfully sold or even transferred gratuitously, the copyright owner's interest in the material object in which the copyrighted work is embodied is exhausted. The owner of the material object can then dispose of it as they see fit. Thus, one who buys a copy of a book is entitled to resell it, rent it, give it away, or destroy it. However, the owner of the copy of the book will not be able to make new copies of the book because the first-sale doctrine does not limit copyright owner's reproduction right. The rationale of the doctrine is to prevent the copyright owner from restraining the free alienability of goods. Without the doctrine, a possessor of a copy of a copyrighted work would have to negotiate with the copyright owner every time he wished to dispose of his copy. After the initial transfer of ownership of a legal copy of a copyrighted work, the first-sale doctrine exhausts copyright holder's right to control how ownership of that copy can be disposed of. For this reason, this doctrine is also referred to as the "exhaustion rule".
The doctrine was first recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1908 (see Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus ) and subsequently codified in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 109. In the Bobbs-Merrill case, the publisher, Bobbs-Merrill, had inserted a notice in its books that any retail sale at a price under $1.00 would constitute an infringement of its copyright. The defendants, who owned Macy's department store, disregarded the notice and sold the books at a lower price without Bobbs-Merrill's consent. The Supreme Court held that the exclusive statutory right to "vend" applied only to the first sale of the copyrighted work.
Section 109(a) provides: "Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106 (3), the owner of a particular copy or phonorecord lawfully made under this title, or any person authorized by such owner, is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord." The elements of the first sale doctrine can be summarized as follows: (1) the copy was lawfully made with the authorization of the copyright owner; (2) ownership of the copy was initially transferred under the copyright owner's authority; (3) the defendant is a lawful owner of the copy in question; and (4) the defendant's use implicates the distribution right only; not the reproduction or some other right given to the copyright owner.
17 U.S.C. §109(c) creates a limited exception to a copyright owner's public display right. Owners of a lawful copy of a copyrighted work can, without permission from the copyright owner, display that copy to viewers present at the place where the copy is located. [ citation needed ]
An amicus brief in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. argued that Section 109 was a key provision for US art museums:
Most U.S. art museums have permanent collections that were acquired through purchases, gifts, and bequests, and on which they draw for exhibitions to the public. Museums also present special exhibitions, largely made up of works not in their collections, through loans from private collectors, galleries, and other institutions. For all these activities museums depend on the protections afforded by Section 109. Section 109(c) provides that the owner of a particular copy "lawfully made under this title" is entitled to display that copy publicly without the copyright owner's permission. Section 109(a) similarly allows museums to buy, borrow, loan, and sell such "lawfully made" artworks.
The first sale doctrine only limits the distribution rights of copyright holders. This principle sometimes clashes with the holder's other rights, such as the right of reproduction and derivative work rights. For example, in Lee v. A.R.T. Co., the defendant bought plaintiff's artworks in the form of notecards and then mounted them on ceramic tiles, covering the artworks with transparent epoxy resin. Despite plaintiff's assertion of violation of his right to prepare derivative works, the 7th Circuit held that the derivative work right was not violated and that defendant's sale of the tiles was protected under the first sale doctrine. However, based on very similar facts, the 9th Circuit in Mirage Editions, Inc. v. Albuquerque A.R.T. Company held that plaintiff's right to prepare derivative works was infringed and that the first sale doctrine did not protect the defendant under such circumstances.
The first-sale doctrine does not neatly fit transfers of copies of digital works because an actual transfer does not actually happen – instead, the recipient receives a new copy of the work while, at the same time, the sender has the original copy (unless that copy is deleted, either automatically or manually). For example, this exact issue played out in Capitol Records, LLC v. ReDigi Inc. , a case involving an online marketplace for pre-owned digital music.
E-books have the same issue. Because the first sale doctrine does not apply to electronic books, libraries cannot freely lend e-books indefinitely after purchase. Instead, electronic book publishers came up with business models to sell the subscriptions to the license of the text. This results in e-book publishers placing restrictions on the number of times an e-book can circulate and/or the amount of time a book is within a collection before a library's license expires, then the book no longer belongs to them.
The question is whether the first-sale doctrine should be retooled to reflect the realities of the digital age. Physical copies degrade over time, whereas digital information may not. Works in digital format can be reproduced without any flaws and can be disseminated worldwide without much difficulty. Thus, applying the first sale doctrine to digital copies affects the market for the original to a greater degree than transfers of physical copies. The U.S. Copyright Office stated that "[t]he tangible nature of a copy is a defining element of the first sale doctrine and critical to its rationale."
The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled, on July 3, 2012, that it is indeed permissible to resell software licenses even if the digital good has been downloaded directly from the Internet, and that the first sale doctrine applied whenever software was originally sold to a customer for an unlimited amount of time, as such sale involves a transfer of ownership, thus prohibiting any software maker from preventing the resale of their software by any of their legitimate owners.The court requires that the previous owner must no longer be able to use the licensed software after the resale, but finds that the practical difficulties in enforcing this clause should not be an obstacle to authorizing resale, as they are also present for software which can be installed from physical supports, where the first-sale doctrine is in force. The ruling applies to the European Union, but could indirectly find its way to North America; moreover the situation could entice publishers to offer platforms for a secondary market. In a notable case, the High Court of Paris found against Valve for not allowing the resale of games from the Steam digital storefront, requiring Valve to comply with the European Union Directives of first-sale doctrine within three months, pending appeals.
For the first sale doctrine to apply, lawful ownership of the copy or phonorecord is required. As §109(d) prescribes, first sale doctrine does not apply if the possession of the copy is "by rental, lease, loan, or otherwise without acquiring ownership of it".
Some software and digital content publishers claim in their end-user license agreements (EULA) that their software or content is licensed, not sold, and thus the first sale doctrine does not apply to their works. These publishers have had some success in contracting around first sale doctrine through various clickwrap, shrink wrap, and other license agreements. For example, if someone buys MP3 songs from Amazon.com, the MP3 files are merely licensed to them and hence they may not be able to resell those MP3 files. However, MP3 songs bought through iTunes Store may be characterized as "sales" because of Apple's language in its EULA and hence they may be resellable, if other requirements of first sale doctrine are met.
Courts have struggled and taken dramatically different approaches to sort out when only a license was granted to the end user as compared to ownership. Most of these cases involved software-licensing agreements. In general, courts look beneath the surface of the agreements to conclude whether the agreements create a licensing relationship or if they amount to, in substance, sales subject to first sale doctrine under §109(a). Thus, specifying that the agreement grants only a "license" is necessary to create the licensing relationship, but not sufficient. Other terms of the agreement should be consistent with such a licensing relationship.
In Vernor v. Autodesk, Inc. the 9th Circuit created a three-factor test to decide whether a particular software licensing agreement is successful in creating a licensing relationship with the end user. The factors include: 1) whether a copyright owner specifies that a user is granted a license; 2) whether the copyright owner significantly restricts the user's ability to transfer the software to others; and 3) whether the copyright owner imposes notable use restrictions on the software. In Vernor, Autodesk's license agreement specified that it retains title to the software and the user is only granted a non-exclusive license. The agreement also had restrictions against modifying, translating, or reverse-engineering the software, or removing any proprietary marks from the software packaging or documentation. The agreement also specified that software could not be transferred or leased without Autodesk's written consent, and could not be transferred outside the Western Hemisphere. Based on these facts, the 9th Circuit held that the user is only a licensee of Autodesk's software, not an owner and hence the user could not resell the software on eBay without Autodesk's permission.
However, the same 9th Circuit panel that decided Vernor v. Autodesk, refused to apply Vernor's three-factor test in UMG v. Augusto to a purported licensing agreement created when UMG sent unsolicited promotional CDs to music critics. The promotional CDs' packaging contained the language: "This CD is the property of the record company and is licensed to the intended recipient for personal use only. Acceptance of this CD shall constitute an agreement to comply with the terms of the license. Resale or transfer of possession is not allowed and may be punishable under federal and state laws." Augusto tried to sell these CDs on eBay and UMG argued that first sale doctrine did not apply since the CDs were not sold and only a licensing relationship was created. However the court held that first sale doctrine applies when a copy is given away and that recipients of the promotional CDs did not accept the terms of the license agreement by merely not sending back the unsolicited CDs.
In the case UsedSoft v Oracle, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that the sale of a software product, either through a physical support or download, constituted a transfer of ownership in EU law, thus the first sale doctrine applies; the ruling thereby breaks the "licensed, not sold" legal theory, but leaves open numerous questions.
Section 602(a)(1) of the US copyright statute states that "importation into the United States, without the authority of the owner of copyright under this title, of copies or phonorecords of a work that have been acquired outside the United States is an infringement of the exclusive right to distribute copies or phonorecords." This provision provides the copyright owner an opportunity to stop goods from entering the United States market altogether.
Application of this provision created difficult legal issues in the context of gray market products. Gray market dealers buy the genuine goods in foreign countries at a significant discount from U.S. prices. They then import these genuine goods into the U.S. and sell them at discount prices, undercutting the authorized U.S. dealers. The gray market exists where the price for goods outside the US is lower than the price inside.
On the surface, §602(a), barring unauthorized importation, would seem to clash with the first-sale doctrine, which permits the resale of lawfully made copies. The issue comes down to whether §602(a) creates an affirmative right to bar all unauthorized importation, or does the first-sale doctrine limit the reach of §602(a), thus permitting the resale of at least some lawfully made imported copies.
In 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court in Quality King v. L'Anza found that first-sale doctrine applied to imported goods at least where the imported goods are first lawfully made in the United States, shipped abroad for resale, and later reenter the United States. That case involved importation of hair care products bearing copyrighted labels. A unanimous Supreme Court found that the first-sale doctrine does apply to importation into the US of copyrighted works (the labels), which were made in the US and then exported.
However, the Supreme Court did not decide the issue where gray-market products are initially manufactured abroad and then imported into the US. The Court indicated that importation of goods made outside the US could perhaps[ clarification needed ] be barred under §602(a), since such goods would not be "lawfully made under this title". Such products might be lawfully made, either by the copyright owner or a licensee, but they would not be lawfully made under US copyright law. Rather, they would be lawfully made under the copyright laws of the other country; and the first-sale doctrine would therefore not limit the §602 importation restriction.
The 2008 case Omega v. Costco involved this exact unresolved issue, where the defendant Costco obtained authentic Omega watches, which feature a copyrighted design on the back of the watches, through the gray market and resold them in its stores in the US. Omega manufactured these watches outside the US and did not authorize their importation into the US. Based on the Quality King case, the 9th Circuit held that "application of first-sale doctrine to foreign-made copies would impermissibly apply" the Copyright Act extraterritorially. However, the court stated that first-sale doctrine might still apply to a foreign manufactured copy if it was imported "with the authority of the U.S. copyright owner". The Supreme Court granted certiorari to Omega v. Costco, and affirmed 4–4. However, as an evenly split decision, it set precedent only in the 9th Circuit, not nationwide.
However, in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ,in 2013, the United States Supreme Court held in a 6–3 decision that the first-sale doctrine applies to goods manufactured abroad with the copyright owner's permission and then imported into the US. The case involved a plaintiff who imported Asian editions of textbooks that had been manufactured abroad with the publisher-plaintiff's permission. The defendant, without permission from the publisher, imported the textbooks and resold on eBay. The Supreme Court's holding severely limits the ability of copyright holders to charge vastly different prices in different markets due to ease of arbitrage. The decision removes the incentive to US manufacturers of shifting manufacturing abroad purely in an attempt to circumvent the first-sale doctrine.
The Record Rental Amendment of 1984, codified in 17 USC §109(b) prohibits an owner of a phonorecord that embodies a sound recording or musical work from renting it to the public for direct or indirect commercial advantage. This exception was designed to prevent music stores from renting records and thereby facilitating home copying.
Section 109(b) is an exception to the first sale doctrine, but it is limited in several ways. It applies only to rentals, and not to resale or other transfers. It is also limited to a subset of sound recordings—only those sound recordings that contain only a musical work. It does not apply to sound recordings that contain other content, such as commentaries or dialog soundtrack, or to non-musical sound recordings, for example audiobooks. Lastly, libraries and educational institutions are exempt from this restriction, and may rent or loan musical sound recordings.
The Copyright Software Rental Amendments Act of 1990 amended §109(b) further to prohibit rentals of computer software for direct or indirect commercial advantage. The exception does not apply to lending of a copy by a nonprofit library for nonprofit purposes, provided the library affixes an appropriate warning. The amendment also specifically excluded:
With reference to trade in tangible merchandise, such as the retailing of goods bearing a trademark, the first sale doctrine serves to immunize a reseller from infringement liability. Such protection to the reseller extends to the point where said goods have not been altered so as to be materially different from those originating from the trademark owner.
Copyright is a type of intellectual property that gives its owner the exclusive right to make copies of a creative work, usually for a limited time. The creative work may be in a literary, artistic, educational, or musical form. Copyright is intended to protect the original expression of an idea in the form of a creative work, but not the idea itself. A copyright is subject to limitations based on public interest considerations, such as the fair use doctrine in the United States.
A grey or gray market refers to the trade of a commodity through distribution channels that are not authorized by the original manufacturer or trade mark proprietor. Grey market products are products traded outside the authorized manufacturer's channel.
A royalty is a payment made by one party to another that owns a particular asset, for the right to ongoing use of that asset. Royalties are typically agreed upon as a percentage of gross or net revenues derived from the use of an asset or a fixed price per unit sold of an item of such, but there are also other modes and metrics of compensation. A royalty interest is the right to collect a stream of future royalty payments.
Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus, 210 U.S. 339 (1908), was a United States Supreme Court decision concerning the scope of rights accorded owners of a copyright versus owners of a particular copy of a copyrighted work. This was a case of first impression concerning whether the copyright laws permit an owner to control a purchaser's subsequent sale of a copyrighted work. The court stated the issue as:
Does the sole right to vend secure to the owner of the copyright the right, after a sale of the book to a purchaser, to restrict future sales of the book at retail, to the right to sell it at a certain price per copy, because of a notice in the book that a sale at a different price will be treated as an infringement, which notice has been brought home to one undertaking to sell for less than the named sum?
Software copyright is the application of copyright law to machine-readable software. While many of the legal principles and policy debates concerning software copyright have close parallels in other domains of copyright law, there are a number of distinctive issues that arise with software. This article primarily focuses on topics particular to software.
A software license is a legal instrument governing the use or redistribution of software. Under United States copyright law, all software is copyright protected, in both source code and object code forms, unless that software was developed by the United States Government, in which case it cannot be copyrighted. Authors of copyrighted software can donate their software to the public domain, in which case it is also not covered by copyright and, as a result, cannot be licensed.
The exhaustion doctrine, also referred to as the first sale doctrine, is a U.S. common law patent doctrine that limits the extent to which patent holders can control an individual article of a patented product after a so-called authorized sale. Under the doctrine, once an authorized sale of a patented article occurs, the patent holder's exclusive rights to control the use and sale of that article are said to be "exhausted," and the purchaser is free to use or resell that article without further restraint from patent law. However, under the repair and reconstruction doctrine, the patent owner retains the right to exclude purchasers of the articles from making the patented invention anew, unless it is specifically authorized by the patentee to do so.
Digital goods or e-goods are intangible goods that exist in digital form. Examples include this Wikipedia article; digital media, such as e-books, downloadable music, internet radio, internet television and streaming media; fonts, logos, photos and graphics; digital subscriptions; online ads ; internet coupons; electronic tickets; online casino tokens; electronically traded financial instruments; downloadable software and mobile apps; cloud-based applications and online games; virtual goods used within the virtual economies of online games and communities; workbooks; worksheets; planners; e-learning ; webinars, video tutorials, blog posts; cards; patterns; website themes; templates.
Universal Music Group v. Augusto was a federal court case filed by Universal Music Group against Troy Augusto, a man who sold promotional CDs on eBay. UMG claimed that the CDs were their property, and Augusto's sales constituted copyright infringement. On January 4, 2011, the Ninth Circuit sided with Augusto, holding that "UMG's distribution of the promotional CDs under the circumstances effected a sale of the CDs to the recipients. Further sale of those copies was therefore permissible without UMG's authorization."
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a 1998 United States copyright law that implements two 1996 treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted works. It also criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself. In addition, the DMCA heightens the penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet. Passed on October 12, 1998, by a unanimous vote in the United States Senate and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 28, 1998, the DMCA amended Title 17 of the United States Code to extend the reach of copyright, while limiting the liability of the providers of online services for copyright infringement by their users.
Microsoft Corp. v. Harmony Comps. & Elecs., Inc., 846 F. Supp. 208, was an Eastern New York District Court decision regarding copyright infringement and breach of license agreement. Microsoft Corp. filed the lawsuit against Harmony Comps. & Elecs., Inc. and its president, Stanley Furst, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and treble damages. The defendants did not contest the plaintiff's claim that Harmony sold Microsoft's products without any licenses or authorization, or that they sold Microsoft's products stand-alone, which violated Microsoft's license agreement. Instead, the defendants argued that their action was protected by the first-sale doctrine 17 U.S.C §109(a) (1977). After reviewing the facts, the court found that the defendants' action constituted copyright infringement, and that the first-sale doctrine did not apply since the defendants failed to prove that the Microsoft products they sold were lawfully acquired. The court also ruled that the defendants breached Microsoft's software license agreement by selling the products stand-alone.
Vernor v. Autodesk, Inc. was a case in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington regarding the applicability of the first-sale doctrine to software sold under the terms of so-called "shrinkwrap licensing." The court held that when the transfer of software to the purchaser materially resembled a sale it was, in fact, a "sale with restrictions on use" giving rise to a right to resell the copy under the first-sale doctrine. As such, Autodesk could not pursue an action for copyright infringement against Vernor, who sought to resell used versions of its software on eBay. The decision was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which issued a decision on September 10, 2010, reversing the first-sale doctrine ruling and remanding for further proceedings on the misuse of copyright claim. The Ninth Circuit's decision asserted that its ruling was compelled by Ninth Circuit precedent, but observed that the policy considerations involved in the case might affect motion pictures and libraries as well as sales of used software.
Microsoft Corp. v. DAK Indus., Inc. 66 F.3d 1091 is a court case in which Microsoft contended that in being licensed rights to sell Microsoft Word (Word) software, the then-bankrupt DAK Industries had been granted permission to use this intellectual property, so Microsoft was entitled to receive payments during post-bankruptcy in the form of royalties.
Omega S.A. v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 541 F.3d 982, was a case decided by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that held that in copyright law, the first-sale doctrine does not act as a defense to claims of infringing distribution and importation for unauthorized sale of authentic, imported watches that bore a design registered in the Copyright Office. It carried no precedential weight, and is contrasted with Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Capitol Records, LLC v. ReDigi Inc., 934 F. Supp. 2d 640, is a case from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York concerning copyright infringement of digital music. In ReDigi, record label Capitol Records claimed copyright infringement against ReDigi, a service that allows resale of digital music tracks originally purchased from the iTunes Store. Capitol Records' motion for a preliminary injunction against ReDigi was denied, and oral arguments were given on October 5, 2012.
Euro-Excellence Inc v Kraft Canada Inc, 2007 SCC 37,  3 S.C.R. 20, is a Supreme Court of Canada judgment on Canadian copyright law, specifically on the issue of indirect infringement and its application to parallel importation. Kraft Canada sued Euro-Excellence Inc. for copyright infringement due to their importation of Côte d’Or and Toblerone chocolate bars from Europe into Canada. A majority of the court found that the copyright claim could not succeed, although they split on whether the claim failed due to the rights of an exclusive licensee or due to the scope of copyright law.
Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 568 U.S. 519 (2013), is a United States Supreme Court copyright decision in which the Court held, 6–3, that the first-sale doctrine applies to copies of copyrighted works lawfully made abroad.
Penguin Books Ltd. v. India Book Distributors and Others, was a decision of the Delhi High Court issued in 1984. Penguin Books Ltd. of England brought a suit for perpetual injunction against the respondents, India Book Distributors of New Delhi, to restrain them from infringing Penguin's territorial license in 23 books, the subject matter of the suit.
The exhaustion of intellectual property rights constitutes one of the limits of intellectual property (IP) rights. Once a given product has been sold under the authorization of the IP owner, the reselling, rental, lending and other third party commercial uses of IP-protected goods in domestic and international markets is governed by the principle.
Impression Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International, Inc., 581 U.S. ___ (2017), is a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States on the exhaustion doctrine in patent law in which the Court held that after the sale of a patented item, the patent holder cannot sue for patent infringement relating to further use of that item, even when in violation of a contract with a customer or imported from outside the United States. The case concerned a patent infringement lawsuit brought by Lexmark against Impression Products, Inc., which bought used ink cartridges, refilled them, replaced a microchip on the cartridge to circumvent a digital rights management scheme, and then resold them. Lexmark argued that as they own several patents related to the ink cartridges, Impression Products was violating their patent rights. The U.S. Supreme Court, reversing a 2016 decision of the Federal Circuit, held that the exhaustion doctrine prevented Lexmark's patent infringement lawsuit, although Lexmark could enforce restrictions on use or resale of its contracts with direct purchasers under regular contract law. Besides printer and ink manufacturers, the decision of the case could affect the markets of high tech consumer goods and prescription drugs.
A European court has ruled that it's permissible to resell software licenses even if the package has been downloaded directly from the Internet. It sided with a German firm in its legal battle with US giant Oracle.
Could this be the victory we need for a 'gamer's bill of rights'? DRM is an oft-cited acronym, and resonates negatively in the gaming community. The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in favor of reselling downloaded games. Simply put, legally purchased and downloaded games will be treated like physical copies of the game, and consumers can then sell their 'used' game.
(Legal protection of computer programs — Marketing of used licences for computer programs downloaded from the internet — Directive 2009/24/EC — Articles 4(2) and 5(1) — Exhaustion of the distribution right — Concept of lawful acquirer)