Your music, Trapped and Worthless

I love my music, but not all of it…There has been countless songs in my library that I’ve listened to maybe twice, and they are only there to annoy me when I set my library to random mode. Legally buying songs from iTunes can get very expensive, so when I recently learned of ReDigi, a way of selling my abandoned songs, my hopes soared. Unfortunately this feeling was short lived because the only reason I learned of this company was because they are being sued.

For the first time ever, digital music sales should exceed physical sales. Globally, digital music, meaning online and mobile, spending will increase by $1.3 billion to $8.6 billion this year, while physical sales will decrease 12.1 percent ($1.9 billion). With all this money it’s understandable why digital music retailers would want to protect this business at all costs.

Media conglomerate EMI (owned by Vivendi) is currently locked in a copyright infringement battle with Internet Company ReDigi; a company created to offer used or “recycled” iTunes tracks. ReDigi lets you sell your unwanted iTunes tracks online, and erases all copies off your computer after you sell the song. And the software is promising. Songs that often cost from $0.99-$1.29 are available for around $0.69-$0.79. Additionally, this is a first timer, so this type of market could potentially be worth billions.

The problem that ReDigi faces is whether the resale of digital songs can is considered resale of material goods. By law, when we buy a material good, we own it, and have the right to resell it. Digital ownership laws though are new and can be tricky. ReDigi sees itself as an online used record store, but EMI refuted this by stating, “Used record stores do not make copies to fill their shelves.”

Two main challenges face ReDigi:

First, whether they are selling copied songs or the original. ReDigi goes through an exhaustive system of making sure they transfer the song legally. Much like a bank can digitally transfer money from one account to another, making sure that no dollar is in two places at once, ReDigi applies this to when you’re selling a song. Once someone else buys a user’s file, ReDigi transfers the license and deletes it from its servers.

Second, ReDigi has to overcome the contracts that we already agreed to. The question the court will have to answer is whether digital ownership is considered material ownership as well with regard to digital media. The biggest hurdle though in this case is the fact that in the  iTunes terms agreement that we all are forced to agree to before using iTunes, the same ridiculously long agreement nobody has time to read, states (in a rather condensed and simplified wording) that you are not actually buying the song but instead buying the right to listen to that song.

All this jargon is ridiculous!  I paid for the songs, now let me do what I want with them. Action hero stud Bruce Willis just recently had a similar problem with digital ownership. He wanted to be able bequeath his library in the event of his death. It’s ridiculous that he has no control over the thousands of dollars worth of music that he has paid for. It all comes down to scamming us…they have effectively stamped an expiration date on our music…our deaths

If the court rules in favor of ReDigi, it would be an unprecedented event in the history of music sales. And even though it doesn’t look too hopeful for ReDigi here in the US, a case in the UK would look more promising. The European Court of Justice previously ruled in support of the right to resale used software, stating that software owners ‘exhausted’ distribution rights on the first sale. This essentially could apply exactly the same way for a UK ReDigi case.

It’s sickening to see how little control we have over things that we have bought ourselves. Whether it’s a movie, song, or e-book, we are at the disposal of these billion dollar companies. They dictate what we can or cannot do with our own media. Never in the history of the US have we had such an authoritarian approach to our own media.

Is an eventual used media marketplace inevitable? Or will software companies forever dictate our media rights?

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