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Friday, October 28, 2011

First sale doctrine

Thanks to Jeff Donlan, director of the Salida Regional Library District, for this link: "The Digital Death of Copyright's First Sale Doctrine" by AnneMarie Bridy.

The issue is very clearly laid out in this blog post: the difference between copyright (the author's ownership of the rights to the work) and sale of a copy (the particular instance of that work) is what has allowed the flourishing of a rich marketplace of ideas. We buy a book at full price, and pass it along or resell it at a used book store. The author stills owns the copyright, but the copy moves through many hands. And so it finds many readers.

In the Digital Age, triggered by the infamous software EULA (End User License Agreement) and the assertion of new rights (I'm only letting you access this, you don't own the copy), suddenly that open market place is shutting down. Authors -- or more usually, publishers -- are asserting that copyright and copy are the same. Nothing is for sale. It's only for lease.

Does this make sense in the software world? I would argue that it doesn't. But my main interest is the transfer of this issue to the ebook publishing world. The ironic result is that this will result in less recognition for authors -- fewer readers, fewer sales, less influence, and ultimately, a probable real decline in literacy.

This issue is precisely the thing my library is trying to address through its establishment of its own publishing platform. We're happy to pay for what we use, and happy, even, to push our patrons to places where they can buy what we helped them find. But we are opposed to the removal of "first sale" altogether. Our mission is to promote literacy, after all, not to erode it.

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