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.

Filed Under: copyright office, licensing, ownership, registration

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  1. icon
    Al Bert (profile), 23 Jun 2012 @ 8:27am

    Never a good thing

    I see two possible (not exclusive) outcomes:
    1: creating a registry endangers the existing rights of those with unregistered media
    2: gaining first sale rights for digital media results in an attack on first sale rights for all media

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