Who wants used MP3s anyway?

In a not terribly surprising move the New York supreme court has rejected ReDigi’s attempt to sell your used MP3s, at least not under existing law.

ReDigi sells your used MP3s by uploading your music files to their server, and then deleting any copies off your hard drive. From this you, the seller, get a 60% cut of the sale price of your used MP3, and you still get to keep your MP3 if you have half a brain. Backup hard drives, burning to physical media, even renaming files are just a few of the ways to circumvent the loss of your used content.

But the court didn’t get that far. By it’s very nature “moving” a digital file from one place to another is actually copying it, and therefore under the definition of “first sale” it cannot be resold. But ruling on these grounds makes me a little concerned if the music company wanted to get snippy about the copies of their songs floating on cloud servers, MP3 players, burned CDs, backup hard drives, etc.

The publishing industry, particularly Amazon and Apple are interested in this for the same reason. And the technical issues are more interesting with an eBook. When you buy a book from Amazon, it’s stored in the cloud. When you download it to a device you create a unique digital file encoded with the serial number of that device. Most Amazon books allow at least four “simultaneous downloads” meaning that you have four digital files that are technically unique. Are each of these “first sale” books or just the one in the cloud? Can we sell our cloud access provided the devices we download to are programmed to delete books that are no longer in the cloud? What about Amazon’s new “AutoRip” service which gives you an MP3 copy when you buy a physical CD? You can sell the CD and keep the MP3s but what about the other way around?

I think for a while the answer to that question and many other related digital questions is simply, no. I’ve returned digital books that were defective and gotten a refund (from Amazon), but I don’t think there will be a Half Price Books for eBooks anytime soon.

This is the thing that’s weird about digital media in general, we don’t own it, we’re just renting. That means we’re stuck with the things we liked when we were teenagers, or we at least have to press delete. As someone who frequently sells to Half Price Books, selling things used is never about making money, it’s about sharing something you love with someone else, and hoping that others do the same so that you can try something out for cheaper. In the digital world, with the law as it is right now, the only way to try out new things is to pay sticker price, or break the law. That may mean many of us will try less. A CD for $1.00 at Half Price Books is a what the hell moment (I mean one MP3 is 99 cents so I only have to like one song), but a digital file is a more permanent decision, for an impermanent object.

I understand the court’s perspective, it’s the laws that need to change, and 60% back to the seller for something used seems fishy for something so easily copied. But I love buying used music and books, and I love reading on my Kindle (for all I bash Amazon on the blog 🙂 ) and listening to MP3s. But it may be that reconciling these two parts of my relationship with media isn’t going to happen.

What do you do with old digital files (MP3, Video, Games)? Do you back it up, throw it away, or give it to a friend?

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2 Comments

Filed under Trube On Tech

2 responses to “Who wants used MP3s anyway?

  1. Interesting. I delete my old digital files.. Alternately, what happens if I sell used CDs or DVDs at a yard sale?

    • Selling physical media is protected under “first sale” doctrine and is fine, though obviously with modern ripping technology there are ways to circumvent the intent of the law.

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