We just wrote about an audio equipment manufacturer trying to argue that it was criminal
for someone to resell
their products. While this was obviously crazy, never underestimate the lengths that some companies will go through these days to try to block people from selling products they (thought they had) legally bought. And guess what tool they're using to block you from actually owning the products you bought? Why copyright, of course. It's yet another example of how copyright is often used to block property rights
rather than to create them.
This has become especially popular among telco/networking equipment manufacturers. These companies ship hardware with software included -- and then argue that you can't actually do anything with that hardware -- such as fix it or sell it -- without their approval, because doing so would violate their copyright on the software. Earlier this year, there was a big lawsuit in which Avaya had sued a company for copyright infringement
for merely servicing Avaya equipment. Many other equipment manufacturers have terms of service or "transfer" policies that either effectively block such sales, or (more commonly) include a bunch of hoops that everyone has to jump through just to sell the products you thought you owned. All because of the software that comes with the hardware. While this has mostly been focused on big enterprise systems, it's not much of a stretch to think about how it might eventually apply elsewhere. With so many products being computerized these days, there will be software in lots of different hardware products -- and imagine the havoc those companies could create if they tried to block the sale of these products based on copyright.
Of course, as we've discussed for years, in copyright there's the right of first sale
, which is supposed
to let you sell your individual copy of a copyrighted work (it's why you can resell a copy of a book you own, for example). But many companies have been trying to chip away at that right, and at least some in Congress want to stop this practice. Rep. Blake Farenthold -- who I only just found out is an EFF member
! -- has now introduced a new bill called the You Own Devices Act, or YODA. While I tend to hate silly names for bills, this simple bill is an important reminder that when you buy a product, even if it has copyrighted software included in it, you should own it. The key part of the bill:
...if a computer program enables any part of a machine or other product to operate, the owner of the machine or other product is entitled to transfer an authorized copy of the computer program, or the right to obtain such copy, when the owner sells, leases, or otherwise transfers the machine or other product to another person. The right to transfer provided under this subsection may not be waived by any agreement.
Realistically, this is just reinforcing the first sale doctrine, and it's ridiculous that it needs to be reinforced, but hopefully it can block out some of the questionable shenanigans by some companies.
The bill further makes sure that even if someone sells or transfers such equipment, that the new owners are still allowed to receive updates and security patches:
Any right to receive modifications to the computer program... relating in whole or in part to security or error correction that applied to the owner of the machine or other product... shall apply to the person to whom the machine or product and the copy of the computer program are transferred.
While it's ridiculous enough that this bill is even needed, it's nice to see at least some good
copyright reforms popping up.