Judge Rules it’s Illegal to Resell Digital Music
Back in the days when I was a teenager, friends would share music with each other, trade tapes or vinyl or cd’s, and even head down to the local music store to buy and sell used music.
Today, copyright — and rulings about copyright — makes our musical life much more difficult.
Over the weekend a federal judge in New York ruled that it’s illegal to sell our mp3’s (PDF). The case involved a Boston startup called ReDigi, which bills itself as a marketplace for “pre-owned” digital products” and Capitol Records, one of the major American record labels.
Via Ars Technica:
For years, many a music fan has wondered what we first posited back in 2008: “Can I resell my MP3s?”
After all, as we’ve pointed out in the past, nearly all digital good sales are really licenses rather than sales as conventionally understood. The question here is, can such a license be bought and sold to other users?
On Saturday, a federal court in New York ruled in summary judgment within the case of Capitol Records v. ReDigi. The court decided that no, users do not have the right to resell digital music files, as doing so violates existing copyright law. ReDigi, the judge found, is also liable for secondary copyright infringement and likely will have to pay damages.
As Slate notes, the judge’s decision is “is clearly influenced by” a 2001 US Copyright Office report to Congress that argued against digital reselling because digital objects don’t degrade over time like analog objects do:
But isn’t the ability to create copies of works that don’t degrade over time, on balance, a positive development as opposed to something to be feared? Don’t the upsides of technologies that can allow information to be moved instantaneously and at negligible cost outweigh the downsides?
The Copyright Office’s 2001 opposition to a digital first-sale doctrine was grounded in part on the legitimate concern that people might resell copies of digital works while also retaining them. The technology to ensure that the seller’s copy was deleted was deemed “not viable at this time.” However, that is no longer true. As indicated by ReDigi’s service—and by a digital resale patent from Amazon and a patent application from Apple—there are solutions that can help ensure that a single digital sale by a retailer doesn’t turn into multiple digital copies in the secondary market. Are these solutions perfect? Of course not. But do they represent good-faith efforts to harness technology in a way that respects the rights of owners of legitimately purchased content as well as those of copyright holders? Yes, they do.
So, if you’re tired of those Justin Bieber mp3’s you once so enthusiastically bought and thought you could sell them for a few pennies a pop, you’re out of luck. I also don’t see how or why this ruling wouldn’t affect any digital “purchase” we make from books, to movies to software. And by purchase, check the terms and conditions, because what we really mean is license. We no longer own what we buy. — Michael