Do We Need A 'Circle Section' Registry To Prove Digital Ownership?

from the interesting-ideas dept

If you look at the history of copyright law, it’s really a never-ending story of the law adjusting (often quite awkwardly) to deal with changes in technology that the law never predicted and wasn’t prepared to handle. We see this manifest itself in many different ways today, including the whole question of “ownership” in a digital age. When you “buy” a digital video or song, did you really buy it? Or did you just license it? Because copyright law doesn’t handle this well, we have a sort of Schrodinger’s cat situation, in which companies claim it’s either a license or a sale depending on who’s suing whom. In other words, it’s a complete mess.

Entering the fray with a unique idea as an attempt to solve that, some folks (and a company who likely seeks to commercially benefit from this idea) are trying to convince the Copyright Office to create a new consumer ownership registration system, dubbed “circle section” after the character they’d like to use for it:

Unfortunately, they’re marketing it like lawyers, rather than marketers, so there’s a lot of verbiage surrounding the description everywhere they talk about it, but the basic idea is pretty straightforward (if I understand it correctly):

If you buy something digital, you can “register” your ownership right in that particular copy, which then would grant you basic ownership rights, including rights to format shift the content and to resell it under first sale rights.

The folks behind this project have set up a petition in support of this, where they’re seeking 200,000 signatures, though, currently they have very, very few (again, perhaps an issue of being lawyers, not marketers). Separately, they’ve chosen an odd strategy for pushing this effort: filing a petition with the Copyright Office as a part of the process by which the Copyright Office comes down from the mountain every three years and declares which products can ignore the DMCA’s anti-circumvention clause. Except… this project has nothing to do with that. So, the backers have filed a separate motion, in which they basically admit that this is outside the rules… but they’re doing it this way because if the Copyright Office accepts the proposal, than the whole question of ignoring anti-circumvention issues becomes moot, because a registry of consumer ownership would make it pointless. Or something like that. You can read the full motion below.

This seems like an incredibly long shot no matter how you look at it, and I’m not sure that trying to jump into the magical anti-circumvention clearance debate is such a smart move here. That said, I can see how a proposal along these lines could be interesting as a possible way to deal with the question of whether or not you “own” the digital products you thought you bought. At the very least, I’d be interested in hearing what other people think about it. Personally, I wonder if it’s really necessary, or if it would just become seen as another burden for users, needing to register and track their registrations.

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Comments on “Do We Need A 'Circle Section' Registry To Prove Digital Ownership?”

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One Tom too Many (profile) says:


This is the kind of shit that gets my rhubarb badly! Do we own it or are we renting it! If we don’t own and are renting it then they better support it!

Being a gamer, this is EXACTLY why my consoles (XBox360 & PS3) sit gathering dust because heaven forbid I pay hijacked prices for shitty games that end up being played on gaming consoles with short lifespans that I can’t update because they have horrid graphics processors compared to what I can do in my homebuilt gaming PC in which I know EXACTLY what hardware went into it because I built it with TLC and lots of gaming geekery!

Greedy bastards. All of them. Oh yeah, it would be a GRAND waste of time because nobody would care unless it got hacked and your (not-so-) personal data got shared out by some anonymous group with an ax to grind against this all and then Congress creates a law for Fast and Furious recovery that gets the DoJ in trouble yet again because now that information has become weaponized!!!

Anyway, nope. Stupid has yet again been defined in the above text. Or is it futility??? I’m going back to my Sisyphean existence now. Toodles.

MrWilson says:

The problem is that if the media companies want to pretend that digital goods are the same as physical goods then I don’t have to prove my ownership of digital goods in my possession. If you walk into walmart wearing a pair of jeans that are sold at walmart you are not accused of shoplifting. If you buy denim and sew a copy of your jeans and give them to a friend or a complete stranger, you are not accused of theft. You don’t get it both ways. If you cut up those jeans and make shorts or sew them with other material onto it to create a new piece of clothing, you don’t have to clear the denim samples first. If I’m buying a license, then I own that license forever regardless of the format or storage medium.

Beta (profile) says:

grant them once this power

A registry that grants rights we already have gives the authorities an excuse to deny those rights to the people who don’t use it AND the power to restrict those rights later even for those who do.

The procedure for registering something can become complicated and expensive without limit, but it will be kept reasonable for the mainstream users that the gatekeepers don’t want to rouse; Go outside the mainstream and you’ll find it almost impossible to comply; stay in the mainstream and the process will be pretty easy– but darned if you don’t have to submit a lot of personal information to the registry.

If first sale rights are frowned upon, exercising them will start to involve lots of paperwork, sent to some overworked and underfunded branch of the Copyright Office that will get around to processing it someday. If format-shifting is frowned upon, it will be available for any format on this list — which hasn’t been updated in years — the format shifting itself to be done on one of these approved black boxes– which come with their own limitations, costs, and legal entanglements.

If you don’t believe me, just ask gun owners what happens once a registry is in place. Or heck, look at what happened to [EXAMPLE DELETED IN ACCORDANCE WITH GODWIN’S LAW].

Anonymous Coward says:

I agree that this is a long shot (a really, really, really long shot), but for legal reasons associated with the relationship under our system of laws between the executive and legislative branches. The petitions are essentially asking the Copyright Office to engage in administrative rulemaking that runs afoul of the separation of powers doctrine in that the petitioners are requesting the office to substantively amend US law far beyond that which is covered by copyright law, implicating even law making power that is reserved to the states.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Never a good thing

First sale rights are already being attacked for physical media.

According to some judges and a lot of copyright holders, you aren’t legally allowed to resell copyright material produced in foreign countries.

bigpicture says:


Apparently you are only renting it, hardware and all, but you are paying the price of ownership. Nice scam if they can get away with it. Now take your automobile, tampering may only void the warranty, it is not illegal. But tampering with your X Box now that’s different. Why? Because MS has bought your Congressmen, or maybe it is only renting them?

Anonymous Coward says:

You know what else would eliminate the need for the DMCA exemption circus? Repealing or declaring unconstitutional the DMCA itself. Seems like a lot simpler solution than giving the government a record of every digital purchase I’ve ever made in the hopes that it will keep the MAFIAA from trying to extort me when I tell a friend “Hey check this song out.”

Anonymous Coward says:

In the case of recorded music and films (since these seem to be the ones most often raised), can anyone point to specific examples supporting the declaration repeatedly made here that consumers are receiving only a license, and not title, to the copy they have purchased?

Maybe there are some instances where this may be true, but to date I have not seen them in the case of an ordinary consumer good.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ok, this is a bad idea. Right now, we register important, expensive things with the government. We have deeds to property. We have titles to vehicles.

Under this system we’d have to register every song, game, and ebook? And for what purpose? To avoid being sued for doing things which we should have the right to do anyway? I like the commenter’s analogy of the jeans – we don’t register a pair of jeans just in case someone says we may have stolen them.

MikeVx (profile) says:

Re: Deeds and Titles

Deeds and Titles are just unnecessarily complex lease/rental agreements. We do not own the things covered by these pieces of paper, they just describe what we pay rent on in order to use them. And then, to really confuse things, the rents are imposed under separate procedures with no input form the renters and limited options for escape. In order to escape home rent you have to get someone else to agree to pay the rent, you cannot simply move out and stop payment. (You can, but they eventually send armed thugs after you if they cannot get someone to agree to pay all past rent in order to move in.)

With vehicles, you can, in some areas, escape rent by ceasing to use them for their intended purposes and keeping them in storage somewhere.

As a practical matter, you do not own anything you have to report the existence of.

Trails (profile) says:

fundamental flaw unsolved

This still fails on what all laws fail on: a “digital copy” can be used to trivially produce near infinite copies. DRM will always be circumventable, even legal DRM.

What a company or registry’s perspective, opinion or EULA is regarding this is meaningless.

Bits on my computer? I “own” them. Perhaps not in the legal sense but in the practical sense, absolutely. Good luck trying to restrict my usage/manipulation/reproduction of them.

hegemon13 says:

Too little, too late

Frankly, I don’t think this is relevant anymore. With the proliferation of low-cost streaming services, I don’t want or need to keep track of what I “own” anymore. $10/month not only allows me access to whatever I want, when I want it, but it also allows me to discover and access the stuff I don’t know I want yet. Why would I go back to purchasing digital tracks? Even MP3s are a storage-eating inconvenience now. In the long run, I imagine movies will be about the same. The movie studios have been behind the curve, but they’ll catch up and realize that an all-you-can-eat streaming plan is the best way to create predictable, recurring income.

JD Law (profile) says:

Begin with ownership

But CircleSection should begin with the premise of ownership — whereas other “services” like Ultraviolet or Walmart or Samsung “disk to digital” begin with the premise that you have to buy a license to own. CircleSection stands for the proposition that if you already own the DVD, you already own the viewing rights. Registration should be free and then you get to put it securely up in the cloud where you can view when and where you like.

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