Are LP download codes legally giftable?
September 7, 2011 9:14 PM   Subscribe

Does gifting a download coupon from an LP sleeve to someone else constitute copyright violation?

Most label-backed LPs sold these days come with a coupon on the inside redeemable via a URL for a high-quality digital copy of the album. (Like so.) Almost all coupons of this nature are only good for one use — after that, the URL/code combination never work again. If I buy the LP but have no use for the download coupon, it seems to me that it's within my rights to give it away, unused — that what I paid for was two copies of the album on separate formats, each of which I'm free to use as I please. But I can certainly imagine a viable counterargument that the digital copy is meant to enhance the analog version, and that by giving away the coupon I'm unlawfully forcing my purchase to undergo mitosis.

I skimmed through some TOSes of third-party one-shot download services but they all seem to cover use by the participating record label, not use by the consumer. Any thoughts?
posted by milk to Law & Government (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's a gray area. I don't own a record player, so you've just given me the idea of splitting the purchase price of albums with more music-collecting friends. I'm not sure if its ethical though.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:00 PM on September 7, 2011

IANAL, but what you're describing crosses over several areas of law that were once very distinct. The music itself is copyright, but I think that a purchaser authorised to download the music has a legal right to two copies - the physical one, and a downloaded one. The question is, can the purchaser dispose of the second copy against the terms of the license which the record company (purports to have) granted?

Once upon a time the answer would have been clearly yes, but nowadays the answer is very unclear. The record company would probably try to claim that you're not acquiring a second copy: you're getting a license to use a second copy. So by breaching the terms of the license you or your friend are breaching copyright.

Alternatively or additionally, it might claim that your friend (or whoever you gave the coupon to) isn't an authorised user of their computer system, and that even if he's entitled to a downloaded copy of the music, he still isn't allowed to download it from their computer. And because copyright law is very antiquated, he would probably be breaching their copyright if he acquired a copy from anyone else, even if it was bit-for-bit identical!
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:17 AM on September 8, 2011

If you buy a Blu-ray/DVD combo back, and give away one of the discs, do you thereby infringe copyright? If you cut a book in half and give away one half, do you thereby infringe copyright? It seems to me that this encompasses the ways one can treat a combined purchase: either you bought two copies and are giving away one or you bought one copy and are giving away a piece of it. Copyright law in the U.S. is concerned in part with the making of additional, unauthorized copiesin derogation of the copyright owner's exclusive right to do that. It seems to me as a matter of common sense (and common sense alone) that you're not making any new copies or infringing the copyright owner's other exclusive rights by giving away something you own.

Maybe there's some sort of EULA bullshit going on that says you don't "own" the digital copy, but that doesn't mean you're infringing copyright by giving it away.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:46 AM on September 8, 2011

I would add, of course, that downloading the files and then giving those to someone else (even if you delete your copies) is a whole different matter. My basic point in the third paragraph is that breach of contract and copyright infringement are two different animals.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:53 AM on September 8, 2011

Does the EULA indicate that it is a non-transferable license? That's the keyword that would indicate they don't want you to give it to someone else. Whether this would hold up legally or not is a different matter.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:48 AM on September 8, 2011

Look at it this way: They sold you two copies of the album. The format is irrelevant.

Would it be legal to give away the LP? Of course it would. There's no reason the MP3 should be treated any differently.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:50 PM on September 8, 2011

(As long as you're not making extra copies.)
posted by Sys Rq at 12:50 PM on September 8, 2011

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