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I have been trying to find information on this subject including contacting designers. I have heard as long as you don’t include the instructions in your sale, all is fine as that is the intellectual property. But I have also seen instructions barring against selling of the physical model as well. Most information I find is on the piracy of the instructions themselves. I am looking for info on the selling of the actual build. Like, what if I were to purchase instructions of a modular building and after I buy all the parts and build it I see that I don’t like the look of it in my city. Could I not sell the model to someone else? I believe to understand the intellectual property laws but what about fair use? Thanks for any help.

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  • For one AFOL to sell a completed build one at a time it's unlikely to be an issue. Doing it as a side hustle or business could be a problem. Your answer depends on the license purchased for use of the build instructions. In the USA there are cases that support the buyers or vendors rights of possession for resale. It will come down to how many pieces can the intellectual property be divided and who owns what. Music, as an example, is quite complex. A song has the writer, performer, recording company, distribution company all with some piece of the "property" and this is just the top four.
    – Dan1138
    Jun 18, 2023 at 19:01
  • This issue is going to be unsettled for some time as any nation's position of the "Right to repair laws" could have an unforeseen impact on your issue.
    – Dan1138
    Jun 18, 2023 at 19:06
  • It would probably be worth your while researching the First Sale Doctrine which provides some precedents about what someone can and can't do with copyrighted material they have bought. Certainly in the case of physical instructions the doctrine suggests you would be within your rights to sell your only copy to a third party, with or without the bricks needed to build the model. With electronic instructions it gets harder because you'd have to find a way of proving that you hadn't kept a copy for yourself.
    – john_e
    Jun 18, 2023 at 21:35
  • @john_e, this is the correct answer imho, would you care to expand your comment to an answer? Jun 20, 2023 at 8:25

1 Answer 1

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I'm not a lawyer, so this is purely from a layman's understanding.

You don't say what jurisdiction you're in, so I don't know if what I'm saying applies to you. But in the USA, the First Sale Doctrine means that you have the right to sell your copy of any copyrighted material that you have bought. If, for example, you had bought a physical instruction booklet, you would (in the USA) be within your rights to sell that booklet to a third party, with or without the bricks needed to build the model.

If you received the instructions as an electronic copy, you would still be within your rights to do this, but would need to ensure (and ideally find a way to prove) that you had transferred all copies of the instructions and not kept one back for yourself.

I don't know if there is any precedent for the scenario where someone sells the model (built) and keeps the instructions. Intuitively, I suspect this might violate copyright, as the completed model could be considered a derived work of the copyrighted instructions; either could be used to make more identical models.

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  • This question about who "legally" owns what is a can of worms in a bag of snakes in a room full of spiders. It is clear that the creator hold a copyright for the instructions but does that creator have any rights to the work product when those instructions are used as intended? If the answer is yes then it would be foolish to purchase instructions without a clear statement that permits selling the completed build.
    – Dan1138
    Jun 21, 2023 at 0:00

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