April 12, 2013
In my last column, I made a passing mention of the ReDigi case. Given the implications it has for the future of copyright for online materials, to say nothing of the way we consume media and use modern platforms, I think the case is worth a closer look.
A quick primer: ReDigi is a cloud service that intended to let its users sell their “used” music files.
ReDigi claimed to have software that would have ensured the traded materials were lawfully purchased. It also said it could make sure users sold each file only once and could no longer use it after it had sold, so it wasn’t as if one original file of Rihanna’s “Only Girl” (Don’t roll your eyes at me. You know you love it) was going to be replicated over and over and over again.
ReDigi only sells music, but Amazon and eBay have reportedly looked into similar cloud-based programs that could feasibly be used to sell or trade movie and literature files as well.
The possibility that ReDigi was going to be a vanguard of change in the entertainment industry, though, was put on hold — at least temporarily — thanks to Capitol Record, LLC v. ReDigi, Inc.
In that case, a judge found that ReDigi’s transfer process was more akin to making a copy and then destroying the copied material, not just moving the same file from multiple devices. Thus, the first sale doctrine, which holds that once you’ve purchased a physical unit of a copyrighted work, you can do what you want with it, did not apply, since it isn’t the same individual unit that is changing hands.
In other words, selling a “used” MP3 via ReDigi, in this judge’s eyes, isn’t like selling your copy of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” to Half Price Books. It’s more like making a photocopy of your book, selling that photocopy and then destroying the book you copied.
After reading some excerpts of the judge’s opinion, I find that I don’t really agree with his interpretation. The judge seemed to think that transferring the file was creating new files, and while I am far from a tech genius, that isn’t how it seems to me. And even if ReDigi is seen as making copies, the fact that previous “copies” are destroyed when the new one is made makes me feel like the net impact is the same as selling a used physical item; at the end of the day, there’s just one item that can be used.
ReDigi has said it is making changes to its technology that will pass muster, so it seems we have not heard the last of them.