My iTunes collection is a petri dish of impulse purchases that I have grown to regret – this past December, for example, I decided that I just had to have a “finals week playlist” consisting entirely of Savage Garden and Celine Dion songs.  I hit repeat on that playlist more times than I care to share…but when I emerged from my finals stupor, I was struck with a bad case of buyer’s remorse.

The brains behind the internet start-up, ReDigi, recognized that many of us (including yours truly) have unwanted music cluttering our hard drives.  They came up with an inventive way to deal with those downloads that, while once cherished, have long since lost their luster.  By applying the rules of physical sales transactions to the digital world, they created a virtual swap meet for iTunes purchases.

Users can store their music in a “cloud”, sell the songs they no longer listen to, and “revamp” their collections with new tunes.  Touting itself as a “legal alternative” to file sharing, ReDigi only accepts music that was legimately purchased from iTunes; and once you sell a song, you can never access it again.

Still, as you can imagine, not everyone is head over heels about this secondhand music market.  Last month, Capitol Records sued ReDigi in a New York federal court, claiming that the website was liable for contributing to copyright infringement.  According to the complaint, “ReDigi is actually a clearinghouse for copyright infringement and a business model built on widespread, unauthorized copying of sound recordings owned by Plaintiff and others.”  Sound familiar?

Capitol Records v. ReDigi raises the question of whether it is possible to have a legal online marketplace for pre-owned digital music.  Specifically, the case will force the court to grapple with the applicability of the first-sale doctrine to digital goods like iTunes songs.  Under first-sale doctrine, a legitimate buyer of a copy of a copyrighted work has the right to re-sell, lend or dispose of that copy as they wish.  However, iTunes consumers are mere licensees, not owners, of the digital files they download.  It will be interesting to see how this fact might complicate the legal analysis of first-sale doctrine here.  The 9th Circuit waded into this area in the context of software in Vernor v. Autodesk, and now this case presents a similar fork in the road for digital music.

As someone who frequently falls victim to the iTunes vortex, downloading songs I know I cannot make a lifetime commitment to, I hope the court recognizes the possibility for this marketplace.  Why should my old Ricky Martin files rot away in the graveyard of music that I have outgrown?  I know there is some sorry soul, probably studying for a midterm somewhere, who could really use some La Vida Loca right about now.  Why shouldn’t I be allowed to sell that little slice of heaven to them?

Joanna Collins

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6 Responses to Hey 90′s Music, We Need to Talk…

  1. Kelly Donley says:

    For more re: iPod economics, check out Rob Reid’s TED talk:

  2. Nadia says:

    Yay! So glad to hear that the preliminary injunction was denied. I second everyone’s points about Capitol needing a reality check about the needs of music consumers. Also, I think the distinction b/t owning a track you buy from Itunes and just getting a license to the song is a little silly… if you can trade actual CDs at a swap meet, you certainly should be able to do the same w/digital music.

  3. Joanna Collins says:

    I really enjoyed everyone’s comments! ReDigi had a small victory this week – the New York federal judge refused to shut down ReDigi, denying Capitol’s motion for preliminary junction. However, this is certainly not the end of the road, and the judge indicated that Capitol will likely prevail on the merits at trial.

    I am really rooting for ReDigi though. It just seems wrong to shut down an innovative business that went to great lengths to make a “legal” alternative to piracy. I hope that, even if things do not turn out for ReDigi, the outcome does not shut the door on the idea of “recycled digital media”.

  4. Martin says:

    This is fantastic. Capitol needs a reality check. I saw a quote on another article about this issue that “sang to me” (pun intended): If you want people to value their digital media, give digital media value. I think this has to do with the fight against piracy and the point is, if you deny paying customers value or resale value, they won’t bother paying for it…what’s the point?

    • Megan LaDriere says:

      I agree that record companies shouldn’t go after these companies. I think services like this will actually help consumers think of digital music as more of a physical property, like a CD. This might help make illegal music sharing feel more “wrong” akin to stealing a CD from a store or from a friend, rather than something that is simply to do. I realize that this change in attitude would take an incredibly long time, but I think it would be a great start.

      Also, Joanna, all of a sudden I feel like Livin’ La Vida Loca is missing from my iTunes. Wish you could sell it to me. Or maybe I will follow Jordan’s lead and just listen to it instantly (and for free) on Spotify…

  5. Jordan Teague says:

    Big Music might be doing itself a disservice in going after companies like ReDigi. Such companies are helping to preserve a legitimate place for legal mp3 downloads in the modern digital music marketplace, which is becoming dominated by streaming services (and illegal downloads). By attacking the mp3 aftermarket business model, record labels are undermining the desirability of mp3s in general. If I can’t transfer “ownership” (or my licensee status, as the case may be), why should I continue paying $1 for individual song licenses when I can pay $5/month to Spotify for access to a virtually limitless catalog?