The Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Used E-Book Market
So you just bought 50 Shades of Grey, and you’re not into it.
“Wait a minute,” you think. “Why shouldn’t I be able to sell this to someone that might actually want to read it—for a bit less than I paid?
Publishers have a few reasons for why you shouldn’t be able to. Unlike physical copies, e-books don’t get worn out. They’re not going to be scribbled all over by 4 year olds and college students, so markdowns based on condition are out of the question. Also, many older classics and some relatively new books are already available for free on Google Books, or heavily discounted on Amazon.
Under law, we’re supposed to have the freedom to do what we want with our purchases. This is where Digital Rights Management (DRM) litigation comes into play. Let me put it this way: you only think you own those DVDS on your shelf. But most of them won’t play on DVD players outside your “region,” or on “unauthorized equipment.” According to PC Mag, even CDs are created with faults that would show up only when played on a computer. It’s a way to keep commodities under control, even when they’re sold, and it’s technically not legal under the “First Sale Doctrine.” According to ZDnet, this law dictates that “once a copyrighted book is sold, the copyright holder loses their distribution rights, and the new owner can then distribute the work.” That seems pretty clear cut—but not to software behemoths like Oracle. Oracle recently sued usedSoft, a German used software company, claiming that the First Sale Doctrine only applies to physical things—not mp3s, or downloadable files—or anything that hangs out in a “cloud.”
Well, Oracle lost.
The EU court ruled that the “copyright owner exhausts his exclusive distribution right,” even in cases where the licensed object wasn’t a CD or DVD. Yes, this was the EU, but the US might not be far behind. Used e-books are protected by the First Sale Doctrine, and used e-book buyers are already complaining about this issue. Many bitterly recall the brush with Big Brother SOPA, and this might be the spark that sets off more First Amendment arguments.
Right now, there are ways to sell your e-books. However, there’s no real market, and it’s just too easy to get in trouble. Permanently sharing with friends or accidentally leaving a copy on your computer counts. Digital Rights Management and the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (PDF file) are supposed to keep copyrights from being abused, but even Adobe e-book security can be circumvented. ElcomSoft and Skylarov are two companies that got caught by DRM for creating “digital lockpicks” enabling readers to unlock book security for full access.
If a court battle to uphold buyers’ rights emerges for the e-book, the resulting US ruling on the issue will likely have several crucial implications. New book prices will rise to compensate publishers and authors for their work. And if the EU ruling sets any precedent, this new law would only apply to software that is sold for “continuous use.” So we’ll probably see more special edition books sold and accessible for a short period of time, or a limit might be placed on the number of times a copy can be sold. This last rule would actually give the book a “shelf life” that closely resembles the selling of an actual copy.
Want to exercise your First Sale rights today? It can be done, but be careful. Here are the dos and don’ts when it comes to selling an e-book, according to Digital Secrets:
-Inform the publisher. Give them a heads up before you sell on public sites to avoid any copyright infringement accusations.
-Delete every copy. Paper, electronic, typed out on Word—everything.
-Don’t pass on perks. Those extras you got when you bought the book? They were for you only—not the next buyer.
Photo Credit: goodereader
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