Monday, April 6, 2009

Her Majesty shall sic her corgis on you - the finer points of copyright law

Last week, President Obama presented Queen Elizabeth with a gift - an Apple iPod loaded with some music.

That caught the Electronic Frontier Foundation's attention:

Traditionally, it has been the job of the "first sale" doctrine to enable gift giving -- that's the provision of copyright law that entitles the owner of a CD, book, or other copyrighted work, to give it away (or resell it, for that matter), notwithstanding the copyright owner's exclusive right of distribution.

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with copyright owners (and even the Copyright Office) arguing that it has no place in a world where "ownership" has been replaced by "licenses" and hand-to-hand exchanges have been replaced by computer-mediated exchanges that necessarily make copies.

So what does this have to do with Barack and Elizabeth?

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.

Are we getting into minutiae here? The Open Rights Group weighed in:

[N]obody in their right minds takes this sort of copyright infringement seriously. Except of course lawyers who construct 9,000 word legal contracts for iTunes, and rights holders, who resist legal change as a sort of bargaining chip to extract other concessions, like online enforcement, or levies on tapes, CDs or hard drives.

And the fact that Barack and Elizabeth are citizens of two different countries complicates matters.

We asked our legal experts for a quick opinion as to whether the Queen and Obama were infringing copyright. It’s very unclear. Did Obama buy her a CD, and transfer the songs? In the UK, that would be a infringement, but not in the US.

Does the US iTunes Store allow you to buy songs in the US and give them to a UK user? Probably not, but you have to wade through the 9,000 word contract to find out.

OK, now let's throw this into the mix - what if the Queen decides to RE-gift the iPod to one of her grandsons?

(H/T the Guardian.)
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