Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2011 Issue

Could Reselling Used Books Become Illegal?

Autodeskcase

The Appeals Court came down on the side of restricting the sale of used items.

We recently received a message from a “Ken,” self-described “Overworked Lead Blogger” at Heroic Times, a blog website. You may have seen it too as he sent the message to numerous used and antiquarian book related sites. It has to do with a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit (west coast) that was effectively allowed to stand by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of that decision, which is not quite the same as affirming it, but allows it to be almost the law of the land, and definitely the law on the west coast.

The case had to do with the reselling of computer software. The decision essentially prohibited people from reselling computer software where such is forbidden in the terms of the original “sale” (or perhaps “lease”). Computer software may not be a big item for sellers of used books, but Ken's concern is over what happens if book publishers start printing such prohibitions of resale in the books they publish. Can they now legally shut off the sale of used books going forward?

The issue of resale of copyrighted material goes back to a Supreme Court decision in 1908. Evidently, some publishers must have felt that since they held a copyright on a book, a purchaser of that book could not resell it to another without violating the copyright. The Supreme Court said no, developing something known as the “first-sale” doctrine. Essentially what it said is that once the copyright holder has made the “first sale” of a specific item, the buyer is free to do as he pleases with that item, including reselling it. He can't make copies of that book and resell them. That violates the copyright. However, he may resell the original copy for which he paid. A year later, Congress passed a statute that reaffirmed that court decision, and while it has been updated over the years, such as adding phonograph records, it basically maintains the “first-sale” doctrine as the law of the land.

Starting in the 1970s, and greatly expanding ever since, a new, ephemeral product began to be sold – computer software. It usually was placed on some type of physical object, like a floppy disk or later a CD, but it wasn't a physical object in quite the same way as a book. In fact, often it was meant to be copied, that is, copied from the disk or CD to a computer's hard drive. Makers of this software were concerned that the fact that people needed to copy the software to a hard drive to use it would allow them to share that software with their friends, who did not pay for it. You could buy one set, but then copy it onto an unlimited number of computers. Sure, you could share your books and records with your friends, but you couldn't both use them at the same time. With computer software, your friends could copy it to their computers and hundreds of people could use that one set of software at the same time. This, naturally, looked very unfair to the people who designed and sold software.

Their response was to create limitations – you could not resell the software to others. Since this appears a violation of the “first sale” rule, they came up with a better idea. They would not sell the software, or the disk on which it was placed. They would lease it. Now, it's more like the car or house you lease. You don't get to sell it when the lease is up. You have to return it to the owner.

What the software makers were attempting to accomplish was something of an end-run around the “first sale” rule. Since that only applies to sales, they would simply never sell software again. They would lease it. The protection they sought may well be appropriate for something as ephemeral as software, and maybe not. That isn't for us to say. What leasing would accomplish, if upheld, is effectively eliminate the consumer protection afforded by the “first-sale” doctrine. The transaction may essentially work like a sale – you keep the product, the lease never ends – but since it is called a “lease” rather than a “sale,” the manufacturer is able to skirt the protections of the “first-sale” doctrine.

This was how the trial court saw the “lease” - a sale disguised as a lease. At issue was a set of Autodesk software that an eBay merchant was offering for sale online. Autodesk argued that this product was only leased, not sold, so the possessor (as opposed to an owner) had no right to sell it. The trial court looked at the circumstances and decided this was really more like a sale, and so “first sale” applied. The transaction may have been described by Autodesk as a lease, but it smelled like a sale. There was no time limit on the lease, there were no ongoing payments like a typical lease (just an upfront price typical of a sale), and the “lessee” was never expected to return the disk or software to Autodesk when finished using it. It had all of the features of a sale, except that it was called a “lease.” The trial court ruled that the possessor/eBay merchant really was the owner and therefore had the right to sell the software/disk.

This decision was reversed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Along with the parties to this transaction itself, some heavyweights made arguments on appeal. The Software & Information Industry Association, which includes many of the largest software makers among its members, and the Motion Picture Association of America sided with Autodesk. Ebay and the American Library Association sided with the seller. While acknowledging that a sales-like nature of a transaction is a factor, the Appeals Court essentially concluded that where the language of the contract clearly stated that it was a lease, then a lease it was. So long as the manufacturer specified that it was only granting a license to use the product, specifically restricted the right to transfer the product, and imposed restrictions on the product's use, then the transaction will be recognized as a lease, not a sale. Effectively, it allows a manufacturer, so long as they place the right language in the fine print, to avoid the application of the “first-sale” rule and prohibit their customers from reselling their software when they no longer want it for themselves.


When the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal, it let this ruling stand, and while it may decide to hear a similar case sometime in the future, and perhaps overturn it, that does not appear very likely.


So what does all this have to do with books? Well, more and more books are being offered as software now anyway. It is easy enough for those selling electronic books to “lease” them instead, saying the “lessee” has a right to keep their copy for life, never make any further payments, and never return it, but they are forbidden to transfer their electronic copy to anyone else. It would shut off the used electronic book trade. But, this is probably not Ken's major concern, since it's hard to imagine there will ever be a trade in collectible electronic books. The question is, why can't publishers place similar restrictions on printed books? They could simply print on each copy that it is available only for lease, and may not be transferred or sold to anyone else. Are words printed on paper somehow different from software imbedded in a disk in terms of the requirements of this decision? Not obviously. A lease is a lease by this decision, and it is not obvious why a publisher of printed books cannot avail itself of the benefits it provides any more than the software manufacturer.

Of course this would not apply to all of the old books out there now containing no such warnings, but books printed in the future could possess such limitations. Since most book buyers are probably not thinking of the eventual disposal/resale of their new books when they buy them, they just want to read them, they likely would accept the terms if a “lease” is all that is available. Years from now, the collector would be out of luck. The publisher could prevent the copy of the rare first edition, found in the attic of the long dead “lessee,” from ever being resold. The heirs could be forced to return it to the publisher, who would be the only one who could legally sell the book to a collector, and for a handsome price.

The court did add a note for those who are concerned about where this decision may lead. “These are serious contentions on both sides,” they pointed out, and “Congress is free, of course, to modify the first sale doctrine and the essential step defense if it deems these or other policy considerations to require a different approach.” That they are, but as the Google Books mess has shown, Congress is reluctant to do much of anything any more. It is Congress' job to debate the weighty issues and decide what is the right public policy, but there seems little indication that Congress will do much of anything that doesn't serve some lobbyist's special interest. Nor is there any guarantee that if they did, the Supreme Court wouldn't find a law designed to protect regular people “unconstitutional.” In 1908, when the “first-sale” doctrine first came down, Teddy Roosevelt was President, and the old Bull Moose made sure that government worked for all of the people. 1908 was a long time ago.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <center><b>Bibliothèque R. & B. L. VII :<br>XIXe siècle (1840–1898)<br>First editions – Reviews – Autograph letters and manuscripts<br>Auction in association with Binoche & Giquello on October 9th.</b></center>
    <b>Bibliothèque R. & B. L. VII, Oct. 9:</b> LAUTRÉAMONT. <i>Les Chants de Maldoror.</i> 1869. First edition, unbound, one of the rare copies dated 1869. €100 000 to €150 000
    <b>Bibliothèque R. & B. L. VII, Oct. 9:</b> PAUL VERLAINE. Poème saturnien. March 31st -June 1st, 1885. Autograph poem signed and illustrated. €12 000 to €15 000
    <b>Bibliothèque R. & B. L. VII, Oct. 9:</b> STÉPHANE MALLARMÉ. <i>L’Après-midi d’un faune.</i> 1876. Inscribed to Paul Gauguin. €30 000 to €40 000
    <center><b>Bibliothèque R. & B. L. VII :<br>XIXe siècle (1840–1898)<br>First editions – Reviews – Autograph letters and manuscripts<br>Auction in association with Binoche & Giquello on October 9th.</b></center>
    <b>Bibliothèque R. & B. L. VII, Oct. 9:</b> CHARLES BAUDELAIRE. <i>[La Cloche fêlée,</i> 1851–1855.] Signed autograph manuscript of one of the poems of Les Fleurs du mal. €25 000 to<br>€35 000
    <b>Bibliothèque R. & B. L. VII, Oct. 9:</b> STÉPHANE MALLARMÉ. <i>Le Tombeau d’Edgar Poe.</i> Circa 1889. Signed autograph manuscript inscribed to Edmund Gosse. €40 000 to €60 000
    <b>Bibliothèque R. & B. L. VII, Oct. 9:</b> GÉRARD DE NERVAL. Manuscrit autographe. 1855. Rare manuscript fragment of Aurelia with corrections. €20 000 to €30 000
    <center><b>Bibliothèque R. & B. L. VII :<br>XIXe siècle (1840–1898)<br>First editions – Reviews – Autograph letters and manuscripts<br>Auction in association with Binoche & Giquello on October 9th.</b></center>
    <b>Bibliothèque R. & B. L. VII, Oct. 9:</b> PAUL VERLAINE. <i>La Bonne chanson.</i> 1870. First edition. One of 20 copies on Hollande paper in a mosaic binding by Noulhac. €15 000 to<br>€18 000
    <b>Bibliothèque R. & B. L. VII, Oct. 9:</b> ARTHUR RIMBAUD. Autograph letter to his sister, July 10, 1891. One of the most beautiful letters by Rimbaud, about his last moments, illustrated with drawings of his leg. €80 000 to €100 000
    <b>Bibliothèque R. & B. L. VII, Oct. 9:</b> GUSTAVE FLAUBERT. <i>Salammbô.</i> 1863. First edition. One of 25 copies on Hollande paper, this one inscribed to Théophile Gautier. €30 000 to<br>€40 000
    <center><b>Bibliothèque R. & B. L. VII :<br>XIXe siècle (1840–1898)<br>First editions – Reviews – Autograph letters and manuscripts<br>Auction in association with Binoche & Giquello on October 9th.</b></center>
    <b>Bibliothèque R. & B. L. VII, Oct. 9:</b> CHARLES BAUDELAIRE. <i>Les Fleurs du mal</i>. 1857. First edition, unbound.<br>€15 000 to €20 000
    <b>Bibliothèque R. & B. L. VII, Oct. 9:</b> CHARLES BAUDELAIRE. Barbey d’Aurevilly caricature. Original drawing (208 x 130 mm). 1865.<br>€20 000 to €30 000
    <b>Bibliothèque R. & B. L. VII, Oct. 9:</b> OSCAR WILDE. <i>The Ballad of Reading Goal by C.3.3.</i> 1898 First edition, publisher’s binding, one of 30 on Japan paper. €10 000 to €12 000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.
  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Cartwright (George). <i>A Journal of Transactions and Events, during a Residence of nearly Sixteen Years on the Coast of Labrador...,</i> first edition, with A.L.s. from the author, 1792. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Swift (Jonathan). <i>Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World,</i> 2 vol., first edition, Teerink's "A" edition, Printed for Benj. Motte, 1726. £15,000 to £20,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Fourier (Jean Baptiste Joseph). <i>Theorie Analytique de la Chaleur,</i> first edition, Paris, chez Firmin Didot, 1822. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Boccaccio (Giovanni). <i>Genealogiae Deorum,</i> additions by Dominicus Silvester and Raphael Zovenzonius, Venice, Vindelinus de Spira, 1472. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Mary I. Letter signed at the head "Marye the Quene" to Lord Paget, 1 page, 7th June 1556. The recall from exile of nine persons opposed to the Marian regime. £10,000 to £12,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Nelson (Horatio). Autograph Letter signed "Horatio Nelson" and written to Francis Drake, British Minister at Genoa, discussing the disposition of his "Cruizers" near Genoa. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Darwin (Charles). Unpublished Autograph Letter signed to Walter Raleigh Browne, playing down his scientific knowledge of comparative anatomy, 1881. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Murphew (J.). <i>The fair in an uproar, or, the dancing-doggs.</i> As they perform in Mr. Pinkeman's New Opera in Bartholomew Fair, 1707. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Chaucer (Geoffrey). <i>The Workes,</i> by [Nicholas Hill for] Thomas Petit, dwellyng in Paules churche yarde at the sygne of the Maydens heed, 1550. £7,000 to £10,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Austen (Jane). <i>Emma: A Novel,</i> 3 vol., first edition, 1816. £7,000 to £10,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>Stamboul Train,</i> first edition, first issue, 1932. £8,000 to £12,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Churchill.- Fearon (Percy Hutton) "Poy". “Eat More Beef,” pen and ink cartoon with shading in blue pencil, [July 1928]. £400 to £600

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