Digital and First Sale Doctrine Thoughts

LISNews had this interesting article on the death of the First Sale Doctrine in the digital age. In rebuking ownership and proclaiming that the software, music, movies, books, and so forth are licensed, leased, or rented, people are denied the right to transfer (and for the specific purposes of this post, lend or give) a copyrighted work from themselves to another. While I will concede that my support for the establishment of First Sale Doctrine rights for digital property has major problems when it comes to how to transfer ownership, I can’t help but wonder if the elimination of ownership (or even the ability to lend or give) is a good thing or a bad thing.

My first reaction to the article was the immediate difference between purchasing and (in effect) renting. In disallowing ownership and some of the stakeholdership associated with it, does it transform our notions of pop culture into a transitory or disposable one? (Considering how quickly music groups and movies fly through our lives, perhaps this is a late discovery.) As much as companies might feel that lending is a lost sale, is this better than having people with no actual investment in a media or medium and treating it as such? Without ownership ties, does this effect how easily or readily people might give up on a band, book, or movie? I can’t help but feel like it does.

Following this, all I could imagine is what the management of digital rights must cost the industries involved and what it would be in perpetuity. As the number of works increases, it will involve managing those copyrights and their associated trademarks and brands. Considering the length of copyright protecting, this means that someone will have to be placed into the role of the ever vigilant observer to ensure these rights are protected till they expire. (Perhaps there can be some sort of pseudo-religious order founded on the basis of protecting copyrights since it’s going to take several generations of keepers to safeguards. Like the Knights Templar of Copyright or something.) How much of an actual cost will become? Is this a better allocation of resources compared to establishing some digital rights?

Given that companies have gone after file sharers and come up with a fistful of bad press and a negative cost: benefit ratio, there has to be a sensible middle ground.

What are your thoughts? Can First Sale exist in the digital age?

reposted with permission from Agnostic Maybe


  1. Quasar30 January, 2012

    Well I certainly think the lack of a 1st sale doctrine is a terrible thing. We are diminished by its lack.

    That said with an infinitely copiable medium I’m not sure where such a thing would fit. You would need some kind of DRM scheme that worked and people didn’t loathe (like Valve has with its Steam videogame service).

    And of course lending is a prime consideration in my view of it all, being a life long library user and now library worker. And I have seen and do see every day how much of an impact being able to lend materials can have, especially on the segment of the population who has the tiniest voice when it comes to these things.

  2. charlie dulin30 January, 2012

    um… you can share your copy of a digital book with someone else- hand them your reading device. the paper book is the device you used to hand to your wife/sister/brother/mother /father to share the story. if you have a digital/electronic reader, hand them that so they can share the story.

    to resell the work you’d have to find a way to absolutely permanently without a workaround destroy your own copy when delivering the copy to a new owner. or make it so hard to work around that transfer the regular way( that destroys your copy) is just so much easier.

  3. […] Some thoughts on what’s happening to the First Sale Doctrine with ebooks. […]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to top