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Geophysical Service v. TGS-Nopec Geophysical

Canada has a law that requires companies who gather seismic data about the Earth’s substructure to submit their findings to the Canadian government. After a period of confidentiality, the Canadian agency that compiles this data is then apparently permitted to release it to members of the public upon specific request. In this case, a Houston company requested seismic data from this Canadian agency pursuant to that law, and the Canadian agency sent copies of a particular Canadian company’s seismic data to the United States. The Canadian company then sued the Houston company, alleging copyright infringement.

We are called upon to determine whether the act of state doctrine forbids a United States court from considering the applicability of copyright’s first sale doctrine to foreign-made copies when the foreign copier was a government agency. We hold that it does not. We must also decide whether the inapplicability of the Copyright Act to extraterritorial conduct bars a contributory infringement claim based on the domestic authorization of entirely extraterritorial conduct. We hold that it does. Accordingly, we affirm in part, reverse in part, vacate in part, and remand.

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