Tale of Two Tables

The owner of copyright has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

  • to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;
  • to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
  • to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
  • in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;
  • in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and
  • in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

However, the owner of a particular copy is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy.  In English, an owner of a copyright controls who can make copies and derivative works.  But for any particular copy, the owner of that copy can do whatever she wants with it.  That means if someone owns a book, she can lend it or sell it.  Or if she is particularly in need of some unique bedside tables, she can tear it apart, take a few days and decoupage it to some tables.  But she cannot make photocopies of it, create a sequel, or write a screenplay based on the book.  This is called the first sale doctrine.

One important part of this is that the copy has to be sold to the person holding the copy.  If it is licensed, then the first sale doctrine doesn’t apply.  The ownership of the copy never transferred to the user, just the ability to use.  This is how most software works.  We usually don’t buy the copy, we just buy the right to use the software for specific purposes.

That is why it is important to understand exactly what your money is buying you: Ownership or license.  If there is writing involved, a license is very possible. Read the terms and ask questions.  It is important to know what you are buying and what you are not so you can act appropriately.  And I recommend varnishing over the paper pages once they are glued on.

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