Is Selling A CD You Found In The Trash Copyright Infringement?

from the so-sayeth-the-courts dept

Various courts have held that by putting something in the trash, you are relinquishing your ownership of those goods. However, apparently that might not apply to music. William Patry has the story on an unfortunate decision by our court system, suggesting that if you find a CD in the trash and sell it you may be charged with copyright infringement. The story of the case is as follows: BMG famously offers a CD and DVD "club" that sends out new CDs and DVDs on a regular basis to subscribers. Sometimes those subscribers move and cannot be found or for whatever reason the discs are determined to be "undeliverable." BMG so devalues its own discs that it has told the post office to throw out the undeliverable discs, rather than spend the postage to have them sent back to BMG. The post office dumps the discs in its dumpsters -- at which point a Postal Service employee dumpster dives to rescue them. He then goes and sells those discs to local stores, cashing in to the tune of nearly $80,000. This gets discovered, and he gets charged with mail fraud before settling on charges of copyright infringement.

However, what no one seems to clearly explain is where the infringement is? BMG instructed the CDs to be thrown out. The Post Office threw them out. At that point, the property has been relinquished by BMG and the Post Office, so it would appear that anyone who finds the discs wouldn't be committing any kind of infringement (or, for that matter, fraud) in selling them. A lower court ruling was especially bizarre, in demanding that the guy give up all the money he earned to BMG due to the "lost opportunity" to BMG in selling the music. As we've discussed at length before a "lost opportunity" is not an actual loss and it's not a crime. It's simply a marketing challenge. Otherwise, just about any business could be guilty of creating a "lost opportunity" for any competitor. The pizza shop down the street creates a "lost opportunity" every time I eat there instead of the deli. Hell, just buying one musician's CD rather than another's creates a "lost opportunity." So, it's ridiculous to equate a "lost opportunity" to a crime -- and even worse when that "lost opportunity" was self-created by BMG choosing to throw out the discs.

Luckily, the Appeals Court tossed out the "lost opportunity" part, but as Patry notes, it doesn't appear that anyone questioned how the facts of this case could possibly be considered copyright infringement. Selling used CDs is considered to be perfectly legal and non-infringing. How is selling CDs that have been thrown in the garbage any different?

Filed Under: cds, copyright, first sale, garbage
Companies: bmg


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    Former Bookseller, 14 Feb 2008 @ 11:22am

    As D Mentioned...

    This is the exact same process by which bookstores "return" magazines, comics, and mass market paperbacks, as D mentioned.

    They use the same justification, as well. Retailers report the items as unsold and receive a partial credit from vendors.

    I would not be surprised if grocery stores deal with their unsold goods in the same way - it's not like they send their produce back to the farmers, so they must destroy what's left, but then they probably report it as a loss.

    Though, obviously, the shelf life of a book, CD, or DVD is longer than the lifespan of the average orange.

    It's a bit of a tricky situation, though - I understand that for tax purposes and business reasons it makes more sense to destroy remainders than to ship them back, but I do question the illegality of going through "destroyed" property and making use of it.

    You'd think the items could be donated, or put to some other beneficial use, but if you were caught taking "stripped" merchandise anywhere but the trash, you'd get fired for the attempt.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.