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You can resell your old CDs, tapes, and records. That’s a no-brainer for music lovers who have sifted through piles of records to find old-school gems. But, according to a federal court in New York’s Southern District, the same right does not apply to the resale of digital files. So much for keeping that tradition alive in the mp3 era.
In its March 29, 2013 decision, the court effectively held that the “first-sale” doctrine does not apply to the resale of digital music files. Under this classic copyright doctrine, consumers can resell physical goods after their initial purchase without infringing on the author’s copyright. In early 2012, Capitol Records filed suit against ReDigi, Inc., a company that allows its users to sell legally acquired digital music files through its website, for copyright infringement. The company’s technology deletes the music track from the seller’s iTunes and stores a copy on its server to resell to another user later. Even though the original track is deleted, U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan found that the unauthorized transfer of digital music files over the Internet violates the copyright owner’s reproduction right under the Copyright Act. Judge Sullivan was unconvinced by ReDigi’s argument that the system does not copy but rather “migrates” the file from one of its users to its servers.
The court’s opinion touched on the fact that it did not want to extend the first-sale doctrine to digital files when Congress has declined to do so. This issue, among others, has prompted calls for reevaluation of the Copyright Act of 1976. Advocates for reevaluation argue that the Copyright Act should be updated to reflect technology’s impact on copyrighted materials. Just last month, the U.S. Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante, testified before Congress, pushing for extensive revisions of the law.
In the meantime, ReDigi is said to likely appeal the decision. Do you agree with the court in this case? Should there be a distinction between digital files and hard copies? Even if you believe that there should be no distinction, is this an area where courts should get involved?
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