Wednesday, April 30, 2008

BPN 1084 First right of sale to e-songs and e-books

Songs bought in the MSN Music Shop, which stopped in 2006, when Microsoft launched the Zune Marketplace, will be unusable. The servers handing out licenses will be taken out of action on August 31, 2008. Legally bought songs, will become unplayable neither are they to be played out on Mircosoft’s music player Zune. So, legally bought songs become unusable by a decision of the provider, who also stops the songs from being played on its music machine.

Many buyers will put the question whether Microsoft just can do that. Microsoft used the argument that the songs under PlayForSure was a small group. A rather one-sided decision, as people have paid money to buy the songs and will have to shell out again. Besides the service aspect and respect for customers, it appears that the buyer has no right to th song at all, except the right to buy it over and over agin when the provider changes servers, DRM software or equipment. So the user has a right to a license and not to the song.

The same question plays in the electronic book field. When you have bought an electronic book from Amazon or from Sony, is that book yours and are you allowed to sell the book. Four students from Columbia Law School's Science and Technology Law Review are challenging the legal issues surrounding the purchase of e-books for devices like the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader.

The contentious characteristic of both products is that they bar users from sharing their e-books with other users. Kindle offers a non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy...solely for your personal, non-commercial use." Users may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to...any third party. The Sony Reader has similar, restrictive clauses in its license, but does allow users to copy e-books to several other Readers as long as they are registered to the same account.

For dead-tree book buyers this discussion is strange as they can sell the physical book by putting it on eBay and selling it at any price. This is called the first sale doctrine. Under the US Copyright Act, the first sale doctrine allows the owner of a particular copy of a work to sell, lease or rent that copy to anyone they want at any price they choose. These rights only apply, however, to the particular copy that was purchased; any unauthorized reproduction or copying of that work constitutes copyright infringement.

When it comes to digital works, however, two complications arise: first, consumers might only hold a license to the content, rather than all of the rights that come from a sale of a physical book. It is neither most likely that a user can sell a particular copy as there are many more formats available.

Kindle and the Sony Reader are following this licensing trend and creating restrictive licenses that users must agree to upon using the product. If these agreements are found to be enforceable licenses by a court, they could serve as the legal authority to limit users from selling or otherwise transferring the e-books they download.

While the restrictions on e-books may initially seem inconsistent with the rights granted for hard-copy books, these differences are the consequence of new digital products outgrowing traditional copyright doctrines. Such issues are currently being examined by legal scholars and industry insiders, but only time will tell whether this degree of control over digital media is acceptable to society.

Blog Posting Number: 1084

Tags: e-books, e-reader, right of first sale

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