Copyright and the future of digital culture : application of the first sale doctrine to digital copyrighted works




Sang, Yoonmo

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The premise of this dissertation is that copyright law should exist to benefit primarily the public not the copyright holder. The current licensing schemes and copyright protection that favor copyright holders are viewed as running counter to the primary purpose of copyright legislation. Increasingly, the U.S. is moving toward a society where “owning” cultural works is not allowed and users of digital creative works are becoming mere licensees locked into restrictive licensing agreements imposed by copyright holders. The current copyright law has also failed to keep up with new ways that consumers of digital content interact with cultural works in their daily lives. This dissertation questions in particular how the first sale doctrine, one of the “safety valves” within the copyright system, can and should play a key role both in curbing structural tendencies toward overprotecting copyright and in re-establishing the fundamental rights of consumers. The first sale doctrine serves the important purpose of extinguishing the copyright owner’s right to control the subsequent disposition of that particular copy after its initial distribution. The purpose of this dissertation is twofold. First, this study seeks to move beyond the existing knowledge of the origin, application, and development of the first sale doctrine by providing an in-depth look at the ebook ecosystem where the doctrine plays out in conjunction with other socio-cultural factors that have shaped the current political and economic conditions and copyright regime with regard to ebooks. Second, drawing on the notion of cultural democracy rooted in democratic copyright theories, this study critically explores the doctrine’s ability to further the public’s interest in the wide access to and use of copyrighted works in the digital age. This dissertation is concerned with the implications of cultural democracy in a digital environment, including policy recommendations to reform and update the current copyright legislation. Ultimately, this study develops a framework to protect the rights of digital content consumers by promoting cultural democracy as one of the primary goals of democratic principles that copyright law intends to support.



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