Second-Hand Music?

Here’s an interesting development: the ReDigi Used Digital Music Store. Application of copyright law’s “first sale doctrine” — which allows you to re-sell or give away copies that you have purchased of books, records, or other copyrighted works without the copyright holder’s permission (the doctrine that allows, for instance, used book stores or video rental stores to operate without payment of any additional royalties to the copyright holders) — to digital works has always been something of a puzzle. On the one hand, there’s a strong argument that the Copyright Act treats copies of works embodied in digital files the same way it treats copies of works embodied in print or on canvas; on the other hand, the fact that digital files are so preposterously easy to copy means that it’s awfully easy to circumvent the law by “re-selling” a digital file you’ve purchased while still retaining a copy for yourself – which is not within the protection of the first sale doctrine.

So along comes ReDigi. Their claim is that they’ll let you re-sell all that crappy music you downloaded during a drunken spree the other night — if you install their application on your computer, which will do a scan and certify that you haven’t kept any copies of the file around. [See the story in the NY Times here] Clever!! If you really have disposed of your copy of the file in question, it’s hard to see how the copyright holders can complain (though complain they will — book publishers still hate the 2d-hand bookstores . . .).

But there’s one thing I’m not clear about. Suppose I purchase a song at iTunes, stick a copy on my hard drive and a duplicate in my “locker” on the Apple iCloud server. Then, I resell the file at ReDigi — and once I delete it from my hard drive, the ReDigi application will never know that I’ve put a copy in the cloud, right? And if that’s the case, it’s really not a first-sale-doctrine-applicable transaction at all …