By now, you’ve all heard that President Obama gave the Queen of England an iPod. Turns out there were 40 songs pre-loaded on it. Showtunes to accompany a coffee table book he also gave her. When I heard about this, the first thing I wondered was whether or not the RIAA was going to go after his ass. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been wondering the same thing: iPods, First Sale, President Obama, and the Queen of England.
In the digital era, however, first sale has been under siege, with copyright owners (and even the Copyright Office) arguing that it has no place in a world where “ownership” has been replaced by “licenses” and hand-to-hand exchanges have been replaced by computer-mediated exchanges that necessarily make copies. But it’s precisely because first sale is central to everyday activities like giving an iPod to a friend, selling a used CD on eBay, or borrowing a DVD from a library, that EFF and others have been fighting for it in case after case.
So, how does President Obama fare in this? It’s nearly impossible to figure out. If he’d simply purchased a “greatest hits” CD of show tunes and given it to the Queen, the first sale doctrine would have taken care of it. But because digital technology is involved here, suddenly it’s a legal quagmire.
The fact that this is such a convoluted issue kinda proves we need to reform copyright law, doesn’t it?