Ownership, or emotional attachment to a right?

A CBC Spark interview with James Grimmelmann about the ReDigi case in the USA highlights some of the confusion around the usage of the word "own" in the context of copyright.  I understand why recipients of copyrighted works are confused given the confusing language used by the recipients of the government granted monopoly of copyright itself.

Lets start with copyright holders.   Copyright is a series of activities where the government has granted a monopoly to the copyright holder.  The government demands that permission from the copyright holder be obtained before anyone else carries out any of these activities.  That permission is given in the form of a license agreement, a specific type of contract.

Part of copyright is that it is transferable, meaning that the copyright itself can be bought and sold.  Buying and selling copyright where ownership of the copyright is transferred is very different than licensing where copyright remains with the copyright holder, only a specific permission has been granted.

Some copyright holders get very emotionally attached not only to what the statutory monopoly grants them, but far beyond to things that the law did not grant them.  Analogies are made to tangible property rights all the time even though copyright is a government granted monopoly, and very different from ownership of something tangible.  I've written many times over the years about the failure of communication when these analogies are used (See: Jefferson Debate).

Given the language of some copyright holders, it is not surprising that many recipients of copyright permission have a similar mindset. They make analogies between the permission they have been granted under a license agreement and what would have been true if they received tangible media. If they bought a physical book they would have the right to loan, resell or do a variety of other things with that physical book that do not relate to the limited set of activities that copyright granted as a monopoly to the copyright holder. They believe the same should apply to electronic books where nothing physical has been transferred.

In fact, most people presume the same thing applies.  When they paid for the digital download they presumed they were receiving a specific type of value, and I suspect many people are only willing make the transaction based on their belief they are receiving something of greater value than what some copyright holders presume they were offering.

In my case I know that the permissions I am granted on an eBook offer me much less than what I can do with a physical book. Based on this lower value I am only willing to purchase an eBook unless it is considerably discounted compared to the price of a physical book.  The fact that many publishers not only charge comparable rates to the physical books, as well as further lowering the value of the eBook by tying it to specific access devices (so-called DRM), has meant I've never purchased an eBook.

Compare this with music where eMusic offers me platform-independent files (IE: DRM-free) at an effective price of about 25 cents a song,  appropriately lower than the price I would pay for a physical CD.

For what appears to be a majority of people we have a serious case of mismatched perceptions of the same transaction based on what I consider to be false analogies to tangible property.  In both cases the recipients of the copyright monopoly and recipients of copyright permissions have over-interpreted what they have been granted.  They are both partly right and both wrong in the same way.

Hopefully the law will mature to deal with this conflict in a fair way.  My preference would be that analogies to tangible property would exit the copyright conversation entirely, but I am not going to hold my breath on that.  Simple fairness dictates that if the recipient of a statutory monopoly is going to use analogies to property then so should the recipient of a copyright permission.

Narrowly, that means that for the time being I side with ReDigi and the right of recipients to resell digital download without needing the permission of copyright holders. Only when the general public, copyright holders and the courts adequately understand and respect the limited scope of the copyright monopoly should what is granted to the recipients of copyright permissions be similarly limited.