You Can’t Have My Thumbprint, but Here’s a Different Finger

If you think you’re safe from the recording industry’s war on listeners just because you don’t mess with downloading, think again. According to the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, several states are passing laws designed to restrict the buying and selling of used CDs. Florida and Utah have already done so; Rhode Island and Wisconsin are next in line. If you buy as many used CDs as I do—from a third to a half of my collection, if I had to guess—this is going to affect your life significantly.

Under the new regulations, used CD sales will come under pawn shop laws. This means you will be required to provide detailed identification info when you sell CDs—including a copy of your driver’s license or other state ID, and a thumbprint. Florida is requiring shops dealing in used CDs to get a state permit and put up a $10,000 bond for the privilege. (As a result, many stores are getting out of the used biz.) The Florida law also forbids stores to pay sellers in cash, permitting them to give store credit only, and requires stores buying CDs to hold them for 30 days before selling them.

The record industry has never liked the practice of reselling CDs, because they don’t get a cut of the money that changes hands. They like it even less now that something like 20 percent of the CDs sold each year are sold used, so they’ve gone running to friendly state legislators to get these highly restrictive laws.

For most of the recording era, records have fallen under the Doctrine of First Sale, which says that once you buy a record, it’s yours, and the record company has no further say over it. That’s why you can sell your used CDs to begin with. The Doctrine was also invoked in the 1940s to permit radio stations to play records on the air, something the record industry fought hard during the early days of radio.

But when music was untethered from the pieces of plastic to which it had been bound since the invention of recording, the record industry saw an opportunity to redefine the relationship between music buyers and record companies from an outright sale to a licensing agreement. Instead of buying a song or an album, you would buy a license to use it, and what you could do with it—making a copy for your own use, or for a friend, for example—would be restricted. Restrictions on used CD sales come from the same part of the industry’s lizard brain—even though they’ve taken your money, an absolute sale hasn’t taken place, and they’re entitled to a say in what you do with “their” product.

Under the terms of these laws, the record industry isn’t going to get money directly from used CD sales, but they don’t need to. The nuisance these laws will create is going to make it harder for buyers and sellers to deal in used CDs. It will mean that people will pay full price more often for the music they buy, instead of snagging bargains in the used bin. So the industry gets paid, later.

There’s more here.

6 responses

  1. This is just wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong! I hope Merriam-Webster doesn’t try to charge by the word for everything I blog. Or Taco Bell for all the gas I expel after eating their food. I’m (just barely) breathing, who do I pay for that privilege?

  2. It seems to me that, with the advent of the internet and the ability to download music or stream audio, the music industry has become more and more intrusive…and greedy.

  3. This is just getting way out of hand. When I buy a CD, it is then MY property. If I sell it to you, that’s MY business!

  4. If CDs, why not books and DVDs and paintings and any other form of artistic creation in a permanent medium? On second thoughts, better not mention that, in case it gives the big publishers (Rupert Murdoch and the like) the idea of doing the same for books. The movie industry is already telling us where we can watch their products through DVD region codes (equivalent to selling you a car in one country and telling you that you can’t drive it to another).

  5. So are people gonna fight this crap or what???

  6. I know I’m late to the party, but seriously I’ve had enough. You have inspired an incredible forthcoming rant on my site. Well done, well written and now I’m burning up. Keep up the good work.

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