Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What Would You Pay for Used Digital Access Rights?

The United States Supreme Court has ruled 6-3 to uphold your right to resell legally-purchased physical goods contaning copyrighted elements, even if the copyright holder objects. Meanwhile, a U.S. District Court judge ruled to block your right to resell legally-purchased digital downloads containing copyrighted elements. Where does this lead?

If companies cannot limit consumer ownership rights to physical goods, that may just hasten their transition to all-digital delivery. But courts are fickle, and future rulings could extend re-sale rights to digital downloads. Better for companies to keep digital goods in the cloud and sell access to them.

The major players are taking steps to make non-exclusive rights to access cloud-based digital goods feel like ownership. Since the November 2012 announcement in that the Supreme Court would hear the Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons case, both Apple and Amazon have received patents indicating they are working on technology to permit buyers of e-books and cloud-based music files to resell these products. Don't be fooled into thinking this will give you full ownership rights.

Physical media books, LPs and the like are scarce objects. No matter how many are made, the number is finite, the individual objects are unique, and are subject to wear, damage and loss over time. The ones that survive retain value according to their condition. And you are free to re-sell them to a willing buyer.

Digital media files  information stored in bits-only form are infinite objects. There is no limit on the number of people who can simultaneous possess the information, each copy is identical, and does not degrade over time. The value of infinite objects is in the information transfer; the objects themselves have no retained value. But you should be free to re-sell them as long as you actually transfer possession to a buyer; the value of the transaction is based on its convenience.

Cloud-based digital media files are shared objects. Only one copy need exist because possession is retained by the owner (Apple, Amazon) who can sell an infinite number of individual rights to access the file. Amazon's rumored system for selling your "used" Kindle titles merely turns off your access to the book(s) and enables access for someone else. There is no transfer, making it impossible to place a value on the transaction. Why are "used" digital access rights worth any more or less than the original rights?

Furthermore, Amazon has announced Coins, a virtual currency obtained via credit card which will be used by Kindle Fire owners to purchase games, apps, content, and in-app purchases on their tablets. Expect any transaction in the virtual secondary market to be denominated in virtual currency, which amounts to "store credit" issued to the seller. (We all know how coupons convince us to spend more money.) Hard currency enters these walled-off digital ecosystems, but it never comes out.

Ownership of music still trumps access in the cloud when audio fidelity and freedom of choice are considered. All my weightless digital library files play identically, whether the material was originally sourced on vinyl, CD, or legally-purchased download. That same homogeneity should extend to selling any or all of the files, or donating the library after I'm gone. Stand up for First Sale protection everywhere.

             Vinyl-to-Digital Restoration #55            

Title: The Big Band Sessions
Artist: Anita O'Day
Genre: Jazz
Year: 1979

The Big Band Sessions (2-LP, Verve VE-2-2534) is a re-packaging of five Anita O'Day titles: Anita O-Day Swings Cole Porter with Billy May (V-2118), Anita O'Day and Billy May Swing Cole Porter (V-2141), Trav'lin' Light (V2157), Cool Heat (V-8312) and All the Sad Young Men (V-8442). I recently purchased it at an estate sale for $2 and made a high-res digital transfer with tracks organized according to original title and album sequence. (Yes, you can do that.) If First Sale Doctrine is not universally applied, how many copyright holders' permissions (euphemism for payments) would be necessary to sell this digital re-packaging — one, five, six? Any number greater than zero is too many.

© 2013 Thomas G. Dennehy. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment