Thursday, April 2, 2009

Obama Gives the Gift that Keeps on Infringing

The 'big news' coming from Huffington Post (and myriad other news sources...) earlier this week, was that President Obama presented the Queen of England with one of America's most significant contributions to society, the ubiquitous iPod.  Mr. Obama's staff was considerate enough to pre-load the device with about 40 classic show tunes. 

Today, the Electronic Frontier Foundation questioned whether or not the President, with this seemingly innocent gift, had inadvertently violated existing copyright laws.

You can read their entire averment here.

Perhaps the most alarming point raised by EFF, is that it remains unclear whether or not you actually "own" a song or CD you purchase from Amazon or the iTunes store. Are you licensing the song, or are you buying the music, along with accompanying ownership rights that would normally be included in the purchase of say, a CD? 

iTunes' 9,000 word EULA conveniently never settles upon a definitive answer.  And Amazon's  user license agreement is purportedly even more consumer-unfriendly, in that it grants even less "traditional-purchase" ownership rights (I use "traditional-purchase" in reference to the arguably doomed longtime music industry business model, the in-store CD purchase).  

These latent ambiguities present in current digital content licensing agreements only open the door for possible claims of copyright infringement. 

Another troubling contention from EFF, is that the "first-sale" doctrine has been ostensibly eroded by the advent of digital content that is copied and distributed at a increasingly diminutive cost.  I'd agree with EFF that Obama's gift should be perfectly appropriate under the doctrine of "first-sale" (I buy a CD and gift it to my sister; Obama buys 40 show tunes and gifts them to the Queen).  However, does it matter whether or not the staffer who loaded the songs onto the iPod deleted them after transfer? (I no longer have the CD after I give it to my sister) 

EFF raises the important question...Should it matter? 

The destruction of the doctrine of first sale is even more evident when considering the DRM laden Kindle e-reader. The option of re-selling an old book, or even donating it to a local library, is, sadly, non-existent. 

EFF's rhetoric reiterates the assertion that copyright is a broken system; it is in desperate need of amendment and clarification. 

The Foundation sums it best..."[N]one of us should want a world where even our leaders--much less the rest of us--can't figure out how copyright law operates in their daily lives."

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