Intellectual Property

Obama's Greatest Hits



First it was a box of DVDs for Prime Minister Gordon Brown, which the London Daily Mail called "about as exciting as a pair of socks." Then, on Wednesday, President Barack Obama presented the Royal Couple with an iPod, filled with pictures of Queen Elizabeth's visit to the U.S. and…show tunes.

The Queen's gift hasn't gotten as much grief as the Region 1 DVDs, but it has brought up an interesting question, not of taste, but of legality. A great post at the Electronic Frontier Foundation has been making the blog rounds these past two days. A taster below:

You know your copyright laws are broken when there is no easy answer to this question.

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…notwithstanding the copyright owner's exclusive right of distribution.

In the digital era, however, first sale has been under siege, with copyright owners…arguing that it has no place in a world where "ownership" has been replaced by "licenses" and hand-to-hand exchanges have been replaced by computer-mediated exchanges that necessarily make copies….

If [Obama] 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…

First, let's imagine that the President (or his staff) bought the 40 show tunes from the iTunes music store. Do you "own" the music that you buy from iTunes?…Copyright owners have consistently argued in court that many digital products…are "licensed," not "owned," and therefore you're not entitled to resell them or give them away.

Second, even if the first sale doctrine applies to iTunes downloads, what about the additional copies made on the iPod?…President Obama's staff made an additional copy onto the Queen's intended iPod. How are those copies excused? The iTunes terms of service say that downloads are "only for personal, noncommercial use." Is giving a copy to a head of state a "personal" use? Seems more like a "diplomatic use," doesn't it? So copyright owners could argue that the copy on the iPod was not authorized, because it was beyond the scope of the iTunes "license." And according to the typical rightsholder argument, any use beyond the scope of the "license" is a copyright infringement.

Read the whole thing here.

All the Reason copyright and intellectual property coverage you can shake a license at, here. Reason's open letter to Obama about his participation and acceptance of other illegal activities.

High Five: Above the Law, Threat Level, et. al.