Entries Matching: First Sale
A recent piece in Marketwatch emphasizes the thorny questions of what happens to a person's electronic libraries when they die. Shelves of books, LPs, and CDs can be bequeathed to various surviving relatives and friends, or donated to libraries or charity. It’s less clear what happens to someone's iTunes library or their collection of Kindle books.
Two Barriers to Simple Digital Inheritance
Two things create this difficulty. One is the fact that copyright law wasn't originally designed to deal with "born-digital" copies—copies that were sold as digital downloads, and so weren't initially tied to a particular physical object. That leads to problems whenever I want to transfer a copy to someone else—copyright law lets me "distribute" legal copies that I own, but I can't "reproduce" them. Handing over a CD is a distribution.
Today, Public Knowledge filed a public interest amicus brief in the Supreme Court case of Kirtsaeng v. Wiley & Sons, Inc., a dispute that has the potential to drastically alter users’ property rights in their own copies of books, movies, music, software—in fact, any copyrighted material. The case began with a Thai student studying in the United States who realized that international editions of textbooks cost significantly less than the U.S. editions. He then imported international editions and resold them. Wiley & Sons sued under the theory that these sales violated their exclusive distribution rights.
This is still controversial here in the US.
In the physical world something called the “first sale
doctrine” is key to maintaining the free flow of goods. Simply put, the first sale doctrine means
that once you sell something you do not get to control it anymore—you have “exhausted”
your rights to control distribution. It
is why there are important things like libraries and used record stores, and
why you can buy art at garage sales.
The transition from physical to digital has introduced
some ambiguity into the first sale doctrine.
Believe it or not, courts spend a lot of time considering the difference
between software that was purchased as a download and software that was
purchased on a CD or DVD. A recent
ruling by the European Court of Justice cuts through “how is it delivered”
questions and focuses on what is important: was the software sold?
Today, a group of public interest organizations, including Public Knowledge, launched a petition asking the Obama administration to affirm the concept of ownership rights—the idea that consumers should actually fully own the things that they buy.
This may seem like a fairly obvious concept not in need of affirming, but the fact of the matter is that increasingly bizarre interpretations of copyright law threaten to make it illegal for you to sell, lend, or give away many of the things you own.
This morning the Supreme Court announced that it will hear arguments in a case with far-reaching implications for anyone who has ever sold or given away goods that contained copies of copyrighted works. Public Knowledge, along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and U.S. PIRG, filed an amicus brief in January urging the Court to hear this case. The Court should ultimately reverse the lower court's ruling, which effectively granted copyright holders a perpetual distribution right for any copies manufactured outside of the United States.