Real books and ebooks: a disparity in the law

This little article on The Reg got me thinking.  Apparently Apple will be letting FairPlay see the light of day again to secure ebooks on the iPad.   From the authors and publishers perspectives this is very comforting.  Operationally DRM will be in place and contractually there will be the usual restrictive terms blocking any use of the ebook other than (I suspect) on the device onto which it has been loaded (plus other devices in the household, hopefully).

But the question is, is this right for the ebook consumer?  If I buy a physical book the publisher cannot prevent me from transferring that book to a third party (giving it to a friend, selling it on ebay, or whatever).  Once the first sale is done, the rights to prevent the on-sale like this are known as “exhausted”.

This will not be the case for an ebook, so we have a disparity in the way copyright law applies.

So the question for legislators – and let’s face it, we’re currently in the middle of the Digital Economy Bill, so it’s not like we don’t have an opportunity here – is this: if I can transfer a physical book, should it not also be the case that I can transfer an ebook?

Books are (rarely) like music: you don’t keep using them over and over again for the memories.  They are also expensive, so let’s put structures in place which support an after maket in ebooks.


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