Image of Khadoe-Ra Crosby

in Law

Copyright Issues with e-books

In the realm of copyright laws one of many ongoing issues is the ownership of products. For example, the “first sale” doctrine suggests that once one legally buys a product, they own it. Thus, lending and selling of a purchased product without the copyright owner’s permission is legally okay. This idea seems simple enough, but it becomes complicated when one involves the consumption of e-books.

The Vernor v. Autodesk case is one which reflects that, often, the copyright law domain is one that is not always black and white. Timothy Vernor, a reseller of online software, tried to resell Autodesk’s product on eBay. Vernor was under the impression that he because he bought the software, he was legally permitted to resell the product. The confusion arose when Autodesk claimed their Term of Use did not imply that a purchaser of their software owned the rights to the software.

According to (Links to an external site.), “Autodesk’s position is that its software is ‘licensed’ rather than sold, and thus the first sale doctrine doesn’t apply (it only applies to copies you ‘own’ not those you merely lease).” In 2009 the district court ruled that Autodesk sells product but does not license them. Thus, according to the Copyright Act, Vernor was legally allowed to resell Autodesk’s software. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed this ruling.

The Vernor v. Autodesk case is extremely relevant for the e-book publishing world as it was one of the frontrunners in the emerging world of copyright laws. When consumers would buy books, they would inevitably buy the physical copy of a book. While the Vernor v. Autodesk case was specifically pertaining to digital software, it set precedent for other digital products like e-books.

The emergence of this case caused others to be wary of their rights when it came to digital property. Today, libraries are still trying to protect the right for consumers to borrow e-books. According to CNN  (Links to an external site.)“for the first two months after a Macmillan book is published, a library can only buy one copy, at a discount. After eight weeks, they can purchase ‘expiring’ e-book copies which need to be re-purchased after two years or 52 lends.”

This decision is advantageous for publishing companies, but is it for libraries? Libraries buy  (Links to an external site.)about 45% of  Macmillan e-books. When libraries buy books in print, they have every right to do whatever they please with the product. To many readers, and libraries, it seems unnecessary for to have to continue to buy the same product more than once.

As a publishing company, these decisions make sense; they need to make a profit so they can not only sustain a business, but also pay the writers of the books. If they were to allow libraries to buy one copy of the e-book and own the rights to it, publishers would not make as much money. Even though libraries are forced to continuously repurchase the same books, they are still receiving a better deal than an individual buying an e-book. Publishing companies allowing their e-book to be lent out 52 times allows the libraries to pay less money than if they were having to buy a new copy every time someone wanted to check-out an e-book. This is advantageous for both the library and the publishing company.

The new world of digital technology makes the world of copyright law more difficult than it has been in the past. Due to the emergence of e-books and software platforms like Autodesk, sustaining the rights of the writers and software developers has caused new issues. It is because of this technology that new laws have come forth.

Even though the “first-sale” doctrine suggest that if one buys a product then they own the rights to that product, there are stipulations to this rule. Buyers of e-books cannot lend that e-book to someone else and still have access to it on their own computer. This is violating the author of that e-book’s rights. This is because when buyers are purchasing e-books, they are not merely buying the book to own. In reality, e-book consumers are purchasing a licensing agreement. The word “buy” can be misleading to some purchasers because many may believe they own the book. Instead, they own the rights to read that e-book. Consumers cannot resell, lend, or make copies of e-books because of this agreement.

The question lingers to many about who these licensing agreements benefit. These agreements would suggest that purchasers of e-books have the possibility of losing their rights to the books under certain circumstances. Kindle’s Terms of Use  (Links to an external site.)says:

 “Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider. The Content Provider may include additional terms for use within its Kindle Content. Those terms will also apply, but this Agreement will govern in the event of a conflict. Some Kindle Content, such as interactive or highly formatted content, may not be available to you on all Reading Applications.”

Due to agreements like this, e-book readers may believe publishers are not treating their readers fairly with their licensing agreements. The problem arises when one compares the rights that the purchaser gets when buying the traditional print book against buying e-books. The “first-sale” doctrine makes sense with traditional books. Once you buy the book and resell it, they no longer have the product. This, however, is not true for digital e-books. If someone sends an email with an e-book attached, the receiver of the email will now have the book as well as the original owner of the e-book.

The realm of copyright law and licensing agreements is set in place to protect the rights of all those involved in the creating and consuming of e-books. Without these laws in place, writers, as well as their readers, could be taken advantage of.