Universal Music wants to own your CDs forever

The music industry needs to regain consciousness and start looking for ways to profit from the obvious interest consumers have in its products. Pillaging those consumers is not the right way to go about it.

The music industry seems to be taking one step forward, and then promptly taking one thousand steps backward. In Universal Music Group v. Augusto, Universal Music Group (UMG) is suing someone for putting its promotional CDs for sale on eBay, seriously altering the standard view of what First Sale doctrine means.

At issue here is who owns the promo CDs. Universal argues strenuously that it never transferred ownership when it sent them out and that the discs are merely "licensed" to those who receive them. Each disc includes text that makes clear that "this CD is the property of the record company and is licensed to the intended recipient for personal use only." According to Universal...

...the label could recall the discs at any time (though it has never done so). In fact, even giving the discs away or tossing them in the trash constitute "unauthorized distributions."

The same plague afflicts software companies: They want to stretch their copyrights to ridiculous lengths. As defined by UMG (as well as most software EULAs), the digital good is "licensed, not sold," leaving the customer with a very temporary interest in their music (or software).

We've gotten used to the idea in software, but imagine if UMG decided to take back its music from you. You bought the CD years ago but UMG decides that it wants it back. According to its argument in this case, it has every right to recall the CD and you have zero right to retain it. Sound fair?

The music industry needs to regain consciousness and start looking for ways to profit from the obvious interest consumers have in its products. Pillaging those consumers is not the right way to go about it.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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