Here’s a question: When you buy digital media, what are you actually getting for your money?
Actual ownership over a copy of the media — a la analog media purchases — or just permission to watch/read/listen to something whenever you want? That’s the question at the heart of a lawsuit about digital music files, but is it a question that everyone already knows the answer to?
Capitol Records is suing a company called ReDigi over possible “copyright infringement, contributory copyright infringement, vicarious copyright infringement, and inducement of copyright infringement under the United States Copyright Act, as well as common law copyright infringement under the law of the State of New York,” because of what Capitol’s lawyers are calling ReDigi’s “willful and systematic infringement of [Capitol's] sound recordings.”
What could ReDigi be doing that’s so harmful to Capitol’s copyright, you may ask? Well, it’s suggesting that digital media can — and, with ReDigi’s help, will — be resold, in the same way that old books, CDs and DVDs can be resold. According to Capitol and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), that’s not even vaguely legal.
The key to the the lawsuit seems to hinge in the process through which ReDigi “sells” the digital files. Once signed up to the ReDigi system, users can select files on their computer to sell, which are then uploaded to the ReDigi marketplace and deleted from the users’ computers.
According to Capitol’s lawsuit, this makes the company “a clearinghouse for copyright infringement and a business model built on widespread, unauthorized copying of sound recordings owned by [Capitol] and others.” The RIAA, which sent a cease-and-desist letter to ReDigi ahead of the Capitol lawsuit, agrees, writing that “even if ReDigi’s software and system works as described by ReDigi (i.e. that it deletes the original copy before it makes the sale), ReDigi would still be liable for copyright infringement.”
In response, ReDigi has filed for the dismissal of the lawsuit, claiming that the objected-to copying of the files is protected by Section 117 of the U.S. Copyright Act, which protects copying of computer files by the owner of said files as an essential step in their use. ReDigi is also pursuing the awarding of “attorneys’ fees, costs, disbursements, and such other and further relief as to the Court seems proper.” Capitol, in comparison, is seeking $150,000 for each illegally downloaded file. As the lawyers circle and prepare for the legal battle to come, however, it’s worth considering: Where do regular users fall in this whole affair?
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