On Monday, Oct. 29, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., a case that promises to resolve (finally) whether the first-sale doctrine applies to copyrighted works produced and sold abroad and then imported into the United States. It is no small surprise that this is an open question, as the current U.S. copyright act has been in place since 1976. And the copyright first-sale doctrine is older than that.
Compare the situation in Europe, where the European Court of Justice has long ago established that exhaustion (corresponding to the first-sale doctrine) occurs with full effect throughout the European territory, notwithstanding the national character of most European IP rights. A copyright holder which sells a book in France may not use its German copyright to block the importation or resale of that book in Germany.
But not so with respect to IP protected goods first sold outside of Europe: these goods may be blocked by the IP right holder when introduced to the European market. Thus, it is said that the Europeans practice regional exhaustion (first-sales within European cut off IP rights), but not international exhaustion (IP right holder retain rights with respect to goods first sold outside Europe).