I was introduced to a terrifying new idea at Harbottle’s interesting legal seminar this week – the concept of second-hand computer files.
It’s possible (and legal) to buy second-hand programmes and games. But should this be extended to books and films?
Of course, everything in my agent’s heart rebels. Anything that might erode writers’ earnings is just Wrong.
You can see how you might see the logic in it, legally speaking. The ‘first use’ is exhausted: it’s been sold, someone’s used it, traditionally it’s something that can be sold on as used goods.
But films and books don’t date in the way that programmes do (or a buggier or more primitive earlier version of a game, for example). An e-book doesn’t get dog-eared and worn; an electronic file of a movie doesn’t come in a battered DVD box which is sticky with a bit of spilled wine (as mine are).
One of the pleasures of being an agent is that while it’s good professional sense to understand someone else’s point of view, you can be unashamedly biased towards writers. I’m really enjoying the fact that everyone’s buying ebooks and downloaded films first-hand. God knows, there are enough price cuts that the consumer isn’t suffering much. All that’s happening right now is that second-hand dealers in these haven’t sprung up (and Amazon hasn’t opened that department).