[Caution, I’m going to get on my soapbox for this post. If you are not interested in soapboxes, I suggest you avert your eyes]
Yesterday, I touched on the Legality of IPodMeister’s digitizer service. Bringing up the First-Sale doctrine opened up a can of worms in my mind.
I love digital media, but I won’t pay for it (or steal it obviously). I have never purchased a song from the iTunes Store. For too many years, all the songs were looked up so that they’d only play on certain Apple products. There were workarounds, but they were less than convenient for this Lazy Man. The iTunes Store is heading in the right direction making it so their songs do play everywhere (or so I’ve read). You could burn a CD of the songs you bought on iTunes and then rip that to MP3. There was some software that was a little more direct, but it just seemed to be a gamble. If I could spent money and get something without restrictions, why spend money and get restrictions? It’s no problem to sell a CD to someone, but have you ever tried to sell a song you purchased on iTunes? Good luck with that.
I like the idea of the Amazon Kindle. I was very close to saying that I love it. After all it’s a nice way to carry pile of books with you while traveling. However, when I looked at the Kindle in depth, I saw too many drawbacks. People aren’t likely to steal a book at the beach if you go for a swim. If I like a book, I can’t lend it to a friend. And like the iTunes Store, you can’t sell the books you bought to others.
Amazon gets around this by stating in their End User Licensing Agreement (EULA), that you aren’t really buying the book, but the rights to read it. You can read more here. Okay, I can play ball with that restriction, but you need to give me something else in return… like a much cheaper price. Of course as CNET’s Rick Broda points out you often don’t save much money on eBooks. You would expect a lot of savings considering that eBooks eliminate the need for: Paper, ink, shipping (gasoline, trucks, and drivers), warehouse storage, shelf space, sales staff, etc. but that’s not the case. When you give up the rights to sell the book it’s looking like a worse deal.
I don’t want to pretend that there are no advantages to eBooks. There are features like search and digital annotation in addition to the aforementioned portability that are quite nice. In the end though, I think it comes up to be a wash or regular paper books having the advantage. This disappoints me, because I think we should be making moving forward with innovation and eBooks could be a large part of that – except that arbitrary restrictions hold them back.
It’s that right of first sale that I don’t understand. It would be technically easy for Amazon (and others) to implement one of two things
- Credit an Owner’s Account a Percentage for Deletion of the eBook – In this scenario, you are essentially selling the book back to Amazon. Why would Amazon buy the book back? Simply because they know you A) are more likely to buy a book in the first place knowing that you can sell it back and B) will use the credit to buy more books hence making them more sales.
- Allow People to Sell their eBooks – It’s easy to transfer the “Amazon license” from one account to another. In fact, Barnes and Noble’s new Kindle competitor, the Nook allows you to lend eBooks to others, as long as you only do it once per book for a maximum of 14 days. It is a baby step in the right direction.
Some say that publishers don’t want this digital media transferable because it’s simply too easy and would cut into sales. People might just buy the first hundred thousand copies while the cheap guys (like myself) wait for them to finish and then buy them for the lowest price. I don’t know why publishers fear this so much because that already happens. You can buy used books on Amazon. You can use PaperBackSwap.com to get books for free. And then there is that library system.
The Best Digital Media Solution
The RIAA should maintain some kind of huge database that notes the digital rights that everyone has. As long as you paid for the rights, you can get the music in any form you wish for a nominal free (downloading for free, a mix CD for a buck or two, etc.). Sure it’s a privacy nightmare. However, I think consumers would buy into it. There are a lot of consumers out there who are fed up after buying Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic in 5 times (vinyl, 8-track, cassette, CD, iTunes). The RIAA says that a lot of the cost is paying the people producing the album, but if you paid those people with your vinyl purchase, why do you have to pay them again for the cassette version? If my CD gets scratched, it should be replaceable for the cost of the CD as all the parties are already properly compensated. If Toys in the Attic gets remastered or if we are talking movies with DVD extras, it’s fair to charge the consumer a bit more to upgrade their license. However, the consumer should get the choice to keep the license for the previous work which they’ve paid for.
This solution would work for all digital media. If I bought a book on a Kindle and later decide that the Nook is a better device, whatever organization that binds book publishers should transfer over that license for easy downloading.
It’s inevitable that we get there, it’s just going to take time for media publishers and owners to realize that this is the fair way to make sure that everyone gets compensated fairly.