In his Copyright and Technology Blog, Bill Rosenblatt has an interesting column looking at the Owners’ Rights Initiative, a lobbying coalition of interested parties who have united under the slogan “you bought it, you own it,” seeking to promote the right to resell digital property. The group includes used book vendors such as Powell’s, movie rental firm Redbox, and used merchandise outlets like eBay, Overstock, and others. But it also includes a number of public library advocacy organizations, because if you “own” something like an e-book, you also have the right to lend it.
The group seems particularly interested in Kirtsaeng v. Wiley, that Supreme Court case about the Thai exchange student who sold a bunch of imported textbooks and got sued by Wiley for it. Whether Kirtsaeng wins or loses could have profound implications for the future of copyright and First Sale in the US, and legislation is sure to follow either way. This group is apparently going to try to swing that legislation toward allowing resale of digital copies.
I have to admit, as Rosenblatt points out, the group does seem like an unlikely example of symbiosis. The libraries get the support of various big businesses, and the businesses get the cachet of standing up for library lending at the same time they’re trying to protect their ability to make money for themselves.
But it seems doubtful it will go very far, because digital resale rights must either rely on customers to be honest and delete their own copies of things they resell (Customers honest? In this era of rampant peer-to-peer?) or on DRM-powered mechanisms (like ReDigi’s) to enforce the deletion upon sale. Is Congress really going to legislate something like that? It’s a lot more likely libraries will get a narrower exemption that will permit them to lend while not allowing the disruptive effects of digital resale.
But either way, I have to admit it’s nice to see voices speaking up for the idea of digital “ownership.” Even if it doesn’t go anywhere, I think the discussion is a useful one to have. It reminds us all of the things we give up for convenience when we go digital, and that we should think every now and then about whether it’s really worth it. (Found via The Digital Reader.)