German Consumer Protection Ministry Calls for the Right to Resell eBooks
Not only are EU member nations questioning why ebooks are taxed at a higher rate than paper books, they’re also starting to ask why consumers don’t have the same rights over print and digital.
Buchreport.de reports that Consumer Protection Ministry for the German state of Baden-Württemberg is now calling for consumers to have the right to resell the ebooks they buy.
The way things work right now is that consumers don’t buy an ebook so much as the buy a license to use the ebook. That license is defined at the whim of the ebook retailer, and often excludes the possibility that the consumer owns the file or can resell it (this, even though ebooks routinely cost more than paper books).
With a few exceptions, that practice holds true in most countries. (The exceptions include the Netherlands, where consumers won the right to resell ebooks in a court case this spring, and a few niche ebook retailers like O’Reilly which sell under a more permissive license.)
But the Verbraucherschutzministerium Baden-Württemberg wants to change that. They are proposing that the principle of exhaustion be applied to ebooks just like it is with books.
The exhaustion doctrine (as it is also known) is a limit on IP rights that basically says that an IP holder’s control ends when an item like a book is sold. That doctrine is why you can resell a paper book, and activists have long argued it should apply to digital content as well.
As you may recall from the Oracle v Usedsoft decision, we’ve had some luck in that direction. Consumers in Europe do have the right to resell software. With ebooks, on the other hand, German courts have said that retailers can make consumers give up the resale right when they agree to a license to buy the ebook.
You will find that clause in the ToS for many ebookstores, and you’ll find similar clauses in software licenses (said clauses aren’t valid in Europe, obviously). And now the Consumer Protection Ministry is arguing that consumers can’t be forced to give up the right to resell ebooks.
They have affirmed a legal opinion to that effect. It’s not legally binding until someone takes a case to court, but it does set a precedent and it moves us one step closer to the day one when German consumers can resell ebooks.
image by ButterflySha