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Copyright Week Day 4: Theft By Fine Print

January 16, 2014 Copyright , First Sale

It’s Copyright Week! From today through Saturday, a number of groups around the Web will be exchanging ideas, information, and actions about how to fix copyright law for the better. Each day will be devoted to a different aspect of copyright law. For more on Copyright Week, see here.

Today’s focus is on how copyright law balances the rights of someone who wrote a copyrighted work and someone who bought a copy of it. This post looks at how fine print can throw that balance out of whack.


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Copies, Rights, and Copyrights: Really Owning your Digital Stuff

June 27, 2013 First Sale , white paper

Our new PKThinks white paper takes a look at one aspect of the changing relationship between copyright owners and owners of copyrighted things: the first sale doctrine.


Today, we’re releasing a white paper called “Copies, Rights, and Copyrights.” It’s about the conflict between the owner of a copy of a work—like you, when you buy a paperback—and the owner of the copyright in that work – the author, or the author’s publisher. It’s often an invisible conflict, because to us, the basic boundaries in that relationship are so customary as to be obvious: the copyright holder gets to prevent the book being copied, and the owner of the copy gets to use that copy any other way she wants.

But things get trickier as we start looking at digital copies—in particular, copies that are sold as downloads instead of on physical media like CDs or DVDs.

That’s because most of the ways in which we use digital media require making copies—just reading an ebook or listening to an mp3 will make additional copies within the device as it is being buffered or cached. Transferring ownership of a copy from one person to another also requires making copies—unless you’re handing over your entire hard drive to someone.

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Notes From Today’s Hearing: The Register’s Call for Updates to U.S. Copyright Law

March 21, 2013 Copyright Office , DMCA , Enforcement , First Sale , Internet Blueprint

Maria Pallante, the Register of Copyrights (and thus, head of the Copyright Office) was the sole witness in a hearing today with an ambitious title: “The Register’s Call for Updates to U.S. Copyright Law.” (An archived copy of the hearing is here) Her testimony provides a guide to the sorts of changes she thinks are necessary in the coming years.

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Kirtsaeng Shows Why Trade Negotiators Don’t Always Know What the Law Actually Is

March 19, 2013 First Sale , TPP

Something we commonly hear when the United States Trade Representative or others are negotiating “trade” agreements is that, to the extent that these agreements mention other areas of law or policy–such as copyright law–they are “consistent” with it. “Who could object,” we are asked, “to simply restating what the law already is?”

The first problem with this is that such agreements don’t just restate the law–they can freeze it in place. It is politically more difficult for Congress to pass a law if there’s an argument (even a wrong one) that doing so would take us out of “compliance” with a trade agreement. If trade negotiators want to freeze US law in place they should explain that is what they are doing and not frame the issue as a technical one without real consequences.

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Another Kirtsaeng Question: Why Have the Distribution Right?

November 8, 2012 First Sale , Kirtsaeng

In the wake of the Kirtsaeng oral argument, I wanted to look at a strange thing about how the first sale doctrine works in our copyright laws. The first sale doctrine makes it legal for you to sell, lend, or give away copies of copyrighted works that you own.

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