The First Sale Doctrine is an everyday part of life for used booksellers. If you are not familiar with the term it is essentially a limitation in the copyright act that allows the purchaser of copyrighted good to transfer (sell, lend, giveaway) said good without gaining permission from the copyright holder. This limitation was recognized in 1908 after the case of Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus, in which the publisher Bobbs-Merrill attempted to limit the price that the Macey's Dept. Store could sell their publications for.
This ruling has been, mostly, sufficient for regulating physical goods, however since the proliferation of digital media artists, producers, and consumers have been unsure how to proceed. Can I lend someone my mp3 collection? Can I borrow a digital book from a library? Should a digital books have a lifespan?
I was reading a post on the Brave New World blog which got me thinking about this topic again. If publishers want consumers to value digital books in the same way they value physical books they will need to solve this right of first sale, because until an eBook can be re-sold or in some way traded after initial use they will always be perceived like a permanent rental and something you don't actually own.
In the Brave New World article they bring up an interesting service that I actually didn't know existed called ReDigi, who are currently being sued by at least one major record label.
Founded only last year ReDigi is different again and operates under the “first sale doctrine” legal concept, that allows users who buy a copyrighted item like a book or CD the right to sell it or give it away. ReDigi operates a ‘used music store’ where users upload unwanted songs and buy others at a discount. ReDigi claim that they can verify individual MP3 files were legally purchased and not ripped or downloaded from a file-sharing network. Interestingly the sellers must also install a ReDigi program on their computer that removes any copies of a song from the seller’s computer.
If publishers could get together and agree on a service like this which would allow the right of first sale to exist on digital files it would go a long way towards not only adopting digital media but literally "buying" in. This is, of course, assuming you do not already prefer physical books, are not a collector of books and said books are not first editions, signed copies, leather bound, etc. In those instances this discussion is moot.
What do you think about digital books? Would a legal re-selling service make you more likely to buy e-books?