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OPLIN 4Cast #325: A new hope for ebook lending?

Posted in 4cast

digital copyrightNobody gets excited about copyright law (well, almost nobody), but over the years we’ve posted several items of copyright news in this blog, because many of the problems with libraries and ebook lending are copyright-related. So here we are again, with a post about copyright, because Amazon and Apple have just recently applied for patents on systems that would allow people to resell digital materials, including ebooks. This will open a discussion of the current interpretation of copyright law as it applies to digital items, and will probably lead to some high-profile court cases. ReDigi, an early reseller of digital goods, has already been sued by Capitol Records. Such court cases could have a direct effect on what libraries can legally do with ebooks.

  • Imagining a swap meet for e-books and music (New York Times/David Streitfeld) “For over a century, the ability of consumers, secondhand bookstores and libraries to do whatever they wanted with a physical book has been enshrined in law. The crucial 1908 case involved a publisher that issued a novel with a warning that no one was allowed to sell it for less than $1. When Macy’s offered the book for 89 cents, the publisher sued. That led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling limiting the copyright owner’s control to the first sale. After that, it was a free market. Sales of digital material are considered licenses, which give consumers little or no ability to lend the item.”
  • Apple joins Amazon in quest to establish market for used ebooks (Digital Book World) “ReDigi’s position is that the so-called ‘first sale doctrine’ applies to digital files, which would mean that it would be legal for an individual to sell her own property (a digital file). The first sale doctrine essentially limits the copyright holder’s rights to the first sale of each copy of a work, meaning that the new owner (the first buyer) can re-sell that copy of the work without permission or limitation from the original copyright holder. While ReDigi bills itself as an exchange for used digital music, there are obvious implications for the ebook market.”
  • Sale of used e-books getting closer (Publishers Weekly/Judith Rosen) “…ReDigi uses a so-called ‘verification engine’ to determine whether a given song, or soon an e-book, has been legally downloaded and can be resold. And it provides an ‘atomic transaction’ that transfers content without copying it. ‘With ReDigi’s method,’ states [CEO John] Ossenmacher, ‘only the “original” good is instantaneously/atomically transferred from seller to buyer, without any copies.’”
  • Apple follows Amazon with patent for resale of e-books, music (Ars Technica/Jacqui Cheng) “With digital powerhouses like Apple and Amazon seemingly on the same wavelength, content owners may be feeling the pressure to comply, even if they think their work is being devalued. There’s another angle to these patents as well. If Apple and Amazon were to create markets for used digital goods, it would put them in conflict with the software industry. The software industry has fought hard for the right to stop resales it doesn’t like—and it has generally won the argument that digital goods are ‘licensed’ and can’t be resold.”

First sale fact:
John Palfrey’s post last week on Library Journal’s “Digital Shift” blog explains how the first sale doctrine is fundamental to the library business.