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Creating True Digital Ownership with the "First Sale" Doctrine

Published onFeb 20, 2023
Creating True Digital Ownership with the "First Sale" Doctrine

23 Wake Forest J. Bus. & Intell. Prop. L. 136.

After emerging in 1983, the internet fundamentally transformed society by enabling people to generate an abundance of information and instantly share it with the rest of the world. As countries moved online, people realized they could send millions of files and messages at unprecedentedly low cost—this made the internet a truly exceptional technology. However, while one could “Copy, Paste” any file, one could not create digital information that was inherently resistant to duplication. For example, valuable property like money, music, or art could not yet exist as entirely digital assets since they could simply be copied endlessly, deemed the “double-spend” problem.

Computer technologists suffered the “double-spend” problem, wherein “[u]nlike physical cash, a digital token consists of a digital file that can be duplicated or falsified.” No digital asset could be “spent” (or sent) anywhere without ensuring that its sender could not resend the same digital asset to another destination, hence “double-spending.” This seemingly trivial problem barred the existence of scarce digital assets that require resistance against unwarranted duplication, like money or art. However, blockchain technology now provides a means to bring such property online by ensuring scarcity through clever code and cryptography.


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