Pre-release piracy: another appalling term

I’ve been following a perplexingly fascinating case for about a year or so; one of those cases where truth way beats fiction. Simply put, one of the biggest companies in the music business, Universal Music Group, was suing the delightfully-named Roast Beast Music Collectibles, or more specifically Troy Augusto, who trades as roastbeastmusic on eBay, for selling on promotional material.

Last week Judge James S Otero decided enough was enough, threw the case out, and cited the doctrine of first sale as the primary reason.

You can see some of the coverage here and here. The Electronic Frontier Foundation did a great job in publicising the case and fighting in Troy’s corner, here’s an excerpt of what they had to say.

I collect books, and have in my collection many review copies Not For Resale. A small number were actually sent to me, and most of the rest I bought at charity shops (I think they’re called thrifts in the US). Some were given to me by friends who had received them originally. It never occurred to me that someone could even conceive of a reason to claim that what I was doing was illegal. And it is not. Doctrine of first sale.

People have been selling and trading rarities such as promo goods for a very long time, so I tried to figure out why Universal was getting so excited about it. So I looked into it.

I should have known.

Pre-release piracy.

So let me understand this. Universal want to send pre-release promos to people. Why would they do that? So that they could get good reviews of the releases, I would guess. So they must know the people they send it to, at least professionally. But they don’t trust them. They think that the recipients of the promos are going to go into business making copies of the promos and then selling the copies on. So they need a law to protect them against that eventuality.

You know something? If I was one of those recipients of the promo, I would feel insulted and send it back. Maybe that’s what we now need to do, start a movement to get reviewers to send all promos back unheard

Pre-release promos are slow-burning examples of artificial scarcity; the scarcity is non-existent at the point of pre-release….. The promos take time to develop into valued items, time measured in multiple decades. As a result, no one has bothered to create the balancing artificial abundance. What Universal was trying to do was to create that scarcity at the point of pre-release. And they failed.

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