Used E-Books Coming to a Thrift Store Near You?

From Digital Book World

According to a ruling today by the Court in a dispute between software giant Oracle and UsedSoft, a used business software licensing site, original buyers of a digital product license can resell that license to a third party, providing they no longer use the digital product themselves. This could have ramifications for e-books, which, like software, are licensed digital files.

Read the rest of the short report on this European Union court ruling here.

This legal decision is of course too preliminary for us to feel all warm & fuzzy from imagining a cloud of used e-books swarming about. In the US, the First Sale Principle currently does not allow for exchanges of e-materials because such resale, lending, or rental necessitates an electronic copy being made on a new device. This limitation is certainly not going to change because of a decision that an European Union court made.

In fact, much heated debate arose in an ALA presentation that I went to recently on the issue of how feasible it would be to incorporate such a Digital First Sale Principle into the US code of law. Besides the resistance-cum-political-lobbying coming from publishers and software companies that must be overcome in any such attempt, one scholar brought up the fact that the US may be violating its international treaty obligations were it to unilaterally allow for the First Sale Principle to apply to digital materials. (Other scholars on the panel disagreed, asserting that if the Supreme Court so chooses, it can simply redefine the exclusive right of copyright owners to control “reproductions” to exclude such “accidental” copying as would occur when e-materials are transferred from one device to the next, providing that the copy is destroyed from the old device.)

To add to the complications, transactions involving e-books and software are often governed by licenses, or private contracts. Thus, even if a Digital First Sale Principle materializes, it could be the case that to actually gain access to content, users would have to enter into contractual agreements whereby they waive any rights granted by the Principle. Moreover, even if users technically have rights to, say, lend their e-books, such books may be protected by DRM measures so that in order to effect the lending, users would have to violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act provision against anti-circumvention — for which they can be prosecuted — to assert their rights. In brief, this is a big, contentious issue to which a court case has recently been added but is unlikely to result in a resolution any time soon.

On a related note, the Digital Book World has a Digital Publishing News section that carries many-a short, interesting reports on things coming from the book publishing industry. Do check it out if things like “a new form of DRM“, buying behavior of e-book borrowers, or the international expansion of e-books interest you.

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