Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Real Oak Veneer

I’ve said for a long time that I probably won’t get as excited about collecting ebooks until I can go to a thrift store and shuffle through them as I can printed books – and now it looks like someone’s trying to do just that thing. At least with music.

And the music publishers don’t like it one bit.

ReDigi, which bills itself as a modern-day used-record store, per Wired magazine, does just that with music. It lets music lovers sell their unwanted digital music files – deleting them from their hard drives once the download is complete – and then offering them for sale at discounted prices. It’s basically what happened with used books, records, CDs, cassettes, and such – and nobody seemed to have a problem with it. The first sale doctrine in action.

Not so with digital music, and not so with EMI Capitol Records. They’re suing – sofar unsuccessfully – to shut ReDigi down.

So enters the conundrum: If it’s okay for an individual to sell physical media, why not digital media?

Yes, digital media is easier to pirate than, say, physical media. And ReDigi confirms it has no way to guarantee that, once it deletes a song from a seller’s hard drive, that the seller doesn’t have another copy hidden away on a storage medium not connected to the Internet. So, what’s to be done?

The debate goes back, of course, to the definition of the first sale doctrine, which allows the sale or a lawfully made copy of a copyrighted work once it has been paid for. Lots of debate will swirl around definition of “lawfully made,” obviously – who is to say that a piece of digital music on ReDigi was lawfully made, i.e., the original copy purchased, without any duplicate having been made.

Technological solutions, perhaps?

Cloud computing, maybe – we may enter the era where we buy cheap leases on digital media, not owning the file outright but having rights to listen to it or view it via the cloud – bad news for people like me who aren’t tethered 24/7 to the Internet. A lease could be bought and sold, guaranteeing no unlawful copying.

But then comes the conundrum: a society shifting away from physical media wants still to physically own, possess, collect, buy and sell, not lease this kind of thing, or so it seems. We want our digital cake and to eat it too.

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