Thursday, August 10, 2006

Online Sellers Promoting Digital Rights Theft

I recently discovered an online ad (and several online auction postings) offering an e-book version of a novel that was made into one of the powerhouse movies of the year (by way of saying it was a big bestseller). Not only was the e-book offered as a download for less than a dollar, but you also got "full resale rights" to the e-book!

Whoa! Does that mean you can put this very popular copyrighted novel on CD and sell it on street corners, and offer it on eBay and Yahoo! auctions for download?

Hardly. The copyright still exists. The truth is that if you buy an e-book from one of these sellers you are receiving stolen property.

You can't convince the sellers of that. Some ads carry official-sounding statements about such non-entities as "the compilation & International Media policy" and "the Downloadable Media Policy." Others state that they have "Reseller Rights." One announced, "I am an author seller of this e-book and I can provide proof." Some even go so far to imply that this novel is "in the public domain."

Could this be true? Hell, no! What's happened is that a few dishonest people got ahold of copies of the e-book by buying it, and then invented a bunch goobledegook about "reseller rights" and "Downloadable Media Policy," knowing that there were enough greedy and ignorant types out there who wouldn't look too closely at a Web site offering resale rights to such a well-known property.

I asked a few of the sellers whether you had to pay extra for the reseller rights, or apply to the publisher. Without exception, each replied that she had bought resale rights and thus anyone who bought from her automatically received the resale rights. I'm sure that's what the person each seller bought the novel from told them. Thus the myth is perpetrated.

So, how are these sellers getting away with it? Either the publisher and author of this novel don't know about it, or they just don't want to bother with it. None of the sellers are making big money on this, so maybe they're not affecting legitimate sales enough to bother the publisher. And maybe the publisher realizes that as soon as a squad of attorneys swatted a dozen of these clowns twice as many more would pop up.

Now, if someone was offering an MP3 version of a hot new rap or rock tune, you could count on recording company attorneys making short work of them. But I don't think the book publishing industry is as excitable as are music people. And I suspect that most book publishers still don't have a handle on electronic publishing and just don't understand that the rights associated with this novel--not to mention the entire notion of copyright--are being undermined.

On the third hand, it could be that this book's publisher (the largest in the world) covertly started this to publicize the book.

I hope this isn't a trend.
Copyright © 2006, 2007, Michael A. Banks

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