By Kevin A. Gray
Should the purchase of a used paperback at a garage sale be a crime? Are libraries breaking the law by allowing patrons to borrow movies on DVD? When you lend a CD to your neighbor, should you face arrest?
Of course not – these are preposterous questions.
But, is there a difference between the lending and resale of tangible items like print books, DVDs and albums; and the resale of eBooks and other digital content? This is a question that is drawing a lot of attention across publishing and should be of keen interest to self-published authors, who unlike traditionally-published authors, depend exclusively on royalties from sales of their works.
In a recent Bloomberg News article, reporter Joshua Bruestein addresses the murkiness of this issue. Bruestein reports that the courts are currently looking at the question and that Congress may take on the issue of whether or not to expand the law that allows for the sales of used print books, videos and albums.
From Bruestein’s article: “The question centers on a part of copyright law known as the first-sale doctrine, an early 20th century provision that prevents rights holders from seeking to stop the sale, trade, or lending of legally acquired property. You can thank first sale for making it legal to run a used record store, found a public library, or lend a DVD to a friend.”
Currently, libraries lend eBooks to patrons for a set period of time. When the borrowing period expires, the digital book disappears from the borrower’s device – the digital equivalent to returning a print book to the library.
One argument made in favor of expanding the first sale doctrine to cover digital content is that sellers will likely use the proceeds earned from selling unwanted content to purchase new original digital content. However, as Bruestein’s piece points out, digital content has an infinite lifespan as it does not physically deteriorate like a book or video might through repeated use.
What are your thoughts on legalizing the secondhand sales of eBooks and digital content?