What’s the Legal Status of “Used” Digital Files? It’s Before the Courts Right Now.

When you buy a CD or vinyl record–or any physical product for that matter–the law says you are free to resell it as you see fit. This is called “the right of first sale.” Once you buy it, you don’t owe anything to the creator of that product.

But what about digital files? Once you buy a song from, say, iTunes, are you free to resell it as you would with a CD? That’s a tricky question, one that’s been winding its way through the courts in the US. The Hollywood Reporter has this:

Every now and then, a technology comes along that is disruptive, legally provocative and has the entertainment industry screaming and kicking and foretelling of impending doom. A million years ago, or at least that’s what 2013 now feels like in the digital era, a federal judge put the breaks on one such technology called ReDigi. Back then, consumers were getting many of their tunes by purchasing digital downloads off of iTunes. Before streaming outlets like Spotify and Apple Music really took off, ReDigi launched a service whereby consumers could sell their “used” iTunes music in a secondary market for digital files. A New York judge likened it to a “clearinghouse for copyright infringement” after the record industry brought suit.

On Tuesday, that judgment finally got reviewed by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. In a hearing that was scheduled to last 24 minutes but stretched past two hours, a panel of three judges regarded the past, present and future of digital entertainment. Plus, there was a touch of quantum physics. A group of copyright law scholars participated in the highly charged debate, and 2nd Circuit Court judge Pierre Leval might have exploded some minds in the audience by commenting that the case had a “high likelihood” of being taken up by the Supreme Court in the midst of expressing some frustration that what would be adjudicated was ReDigi 1.0 instead of ReDigi 2.0, where cloud computing comes stronger into play.

Keep reading. This is fascinating.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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