Have everything. Own nothing. Learn the difference

ReDigi and the RIAA

Opinion: The nutshell of the story is this: ReDigi has a bright idea about creating a resale market for iTunes-licensed songs; the RIAA objects and has sent the cease-and-desist; and world+dog is supposed to rise up Occupy-style against another outrage by big content.

Spare me.

To follow the logic of sympathy for ReDigi, I’m asked to put my suspension of disbelief into overdrive. ReDigi decided, in effect, to walk up to the biggest bully in the schoolyard, stamp on a toe, and say “betcha won’t ‘cos I’m wearing glasses”.

It's now got both nose and glasses busted not because the RIAA is evil, but because ReDigi wanted it that way.

Remember Napster’s mid-2000s ad slogan? “Own nothing. Have everything.” It sums up the relationship between you and the bytes you rent from Apple: you don’t own them. The songs on your i-whatever aren’t property.

It’s perfectly feasible that most users don’t understand this. But it’s not even remotely feasible that ReDigi didn’t know it.

Nor does ReDigi’s supposed belief that it can apply the “first sale doctrine” to its technology. The principle of first sale applies to the right to re-sell property, and there’s no property at stake in an iTunes song. Sign on with iTunes and you agree to a contract that gives you permission to do certain things.

Permission isn’t property. A license isn’t property. It’s just an agreement between two parties, nothing more.

And what’s ReDigi got out of all of this?

Well, it’s got a technology – complete with patent application – for verifying a remote file operation. That’s probably valuable.

And it’s got worldwide headlines: it successfully baited the hook for its marketing strategy.

ReDigi wanted attention and a sympathetic mood. It knew what it was doing when it stomped the bully’s toe. It wasn’t misguided or misadvised: it was strategy. Even if it gets to court, it will still be a strategy, because ReDigi will get a public and authoritative platform to demonstrate that its technology works.

Even if it loses, it will be in a position to sell its own technology to people who need what it has to offer. I believe ReDigi wants to be in the business of licensing its technology. Wouldn't that be a lovely paradox? ®

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