Digital Rights Tested

A coalition of libraries and businesses including Redbox, eBay and a marketplace selling pre-owned digital music files are taking aim at U.S. copyright regulation and how rights to digital content are viewed.

Current law gives consumers who buy digital albums, movies or e-books a content license of sorts. But those licenses don’t afford the same rights – to sell a book or lend a friend an album, for example – that come along with physical media purchases under the First Sale doctrine of U.S. copyright law.

Enter the Owners’ Rights Initiative.

The lobbying group includes libraries, Redbox, eBay, Etsy, Overstock and used textbook company Chegg, among others.

The coalition, which touts the slogan “you bought it, you own it,” has been pushing for Digital First Sale rights, and GiantSteps Media CEO Bill Rosenblatt recently touched on what those rights would entail in a piece for digital media site paidContent.

“As a practical matter, ‘Digital First Sale’ would mean that you could transfer ownership of your files to others legally as long as you delete your own copies – including backups, copies in cloud storage, and so on,” he wrote. “This implies one of two things: either you are trusted to delete their copies, or there must be a robust, legally mandated mechanism that does it automatically.”

Digital music marketplace ReDigi is apparently testing out such a mechanism through its service, which allows people to resell digital music files purchased from Amazon and iTunes then deletes those files from their libraries.

  ReDigi’s experiment hasn’t gone unnoticed by record labels, however. The company has already been sued, according to Rosenblatt, who says the forces aligned against ReDigi are “formidable.”

“Digital files are perfect copies: they don’t have scratches, dog-eared pages, or cracked jewel cases,” he says. “Retailers don’t want to be undercut by resellers that will force prices down: imagine iTunes’s reaction if ‘used’ files could be sold on eBay. Publishers don’t want to lose revenue to secondary markets either.  In other words, both the media and content retail industries are dead set against Digital First Sale.”

The same might be said for the ticketing industry, as it’s not yet clear what  Digital First Sale rights would mean for consumers who want to resell paperless tickets.

“Digital music resale and library e-book lending are just two of what will undoubtedly be many digital content distribution models that will touch on the issue of Digital First Sale – a law that, like other aspects of copyright, seems increasingly irrelevant as content moves from physical products to formless bits,” Rosenblatt wrote.