Open Thinkering


On digital ownership. This is HUGE.


If I buy a physical book from a bookshop I can lend it to someone else. And, when I’m finished with it, I can sell it.

If I buy an e-book from, for example, the Amazon Kindle store, I can’t (in the UK, currently) lend it. I can’t sell it.

The same is true of most digital formats.

That’s something that bothers me: how come I don’t own a digital copy in the same way as a physical copy?

Well, thankfully, that may soon change. A recent EU ruling about computer programs could have far-reaching consequences:

The first sale in the EU of a copy of a computer program by the copyright holder or with his consent exhausts the right of distribution of that copy in the EU. A rightholder who has marketed a copy in the territory of a Member State of the EU thus loses the right to rely on his monopoly of exploitation in order to oppose the resale of that copy… The principle of exhaustion of the distribution right applies not only where the copyright holder markets copies of his software on a material medium (CD-ROM or DVD) but also where he distributes them by means of downloads from his website.

So a publisher’s distribution rights end when they sell a computer program or game for the first time.


The Court observes in particular that limiting the application of the principle of the exhaustion of the distribution right solely to copies of computer programs that are sold on a material medium would allow the copyright holder to control the resale of copies downloaded from the internet and to demand further remuneration on the occasion of each new sale, even though the first sale of the copy had already enabled the rightholder to obtain appropriate remuneration. Such a restriction of the resale of copies of computer programs downloaded from the internet would go beyond what is necessary to safeguard the specific subject-matter of the intellectual property concerned.

In other words, publishers can’t expect to make a profit every time a new person plays a game (or reads a book).

Hurray for common sense prevailing!

Image CC BY-NC-SA …-Wink-…

2 thoughts on “On digital ownership. This is HUGE.

  1. I think the key phrase is ‘that copy’. Obviously, the average person can’t replicate a book multiple times and sell each copy on for multiple profit. Seeing as this if far easier to do with electronic copies, publishers have adopted a more draconian approach to rights/copy protection because sadly many people would exploit this if it was not in place (you only need to look at textbook piracy in Asia, Africa and elsewhere to see this in action). I’m not necessarily saying the current approach is right but I do think their is a technological element to the above argument that you need to consider before suggesting that the rights of a book owner can be exactly the same as an ebook owner. How would you stop an owner replicating and reselling multiple copies if this was the case? There may be a more complicated technological solution but this would result in higher costs for the producer/consumer and unfortunately enforcement doesn’t work. 

    I imagine at some point some of the bigger tech companies will expand the concept of rights-controlled ebook lending and reselling as the ebook readership continues to dramatically rise but I’m guessing there isn’t a huge amount of money to be made from it right at this moment for the required investment.

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