/ Shopping, Technology

You buy it, we still own it – the battle for digital ownership

Digital music graphic equaliser with green and red lights

If you own something, should it be yours to sell? The website Redigi thinks so, even when you’re talking about digital music files. It’s getting sued to pieces in US courts for hosting second-hand MP3 files on its site.

I’ve got a job lot of CDs at home, collecting dust and doing nothing in particular for my eardrums since I burned them to MP3s years ago. If I wanted to sell these second-hand CDs at a car-boot sale, I wouldn’t expect EMI to come knocking on my door with a court summons.

Yet that’s exactly what’s happening in the States with Redigi, ‘the world’s first pre-owned digital marketplace’. EMI is suing Redigi to the tune of $150,000 for every EMI song that Redigi has successfully sold since its launch in 2011.

Digital renters, not owners

When you download a legally-purchased music file, you’re effectively paying for a licence to use it, rather than paying for its ownership. This means that you don’t have the same rights to share or sell digital music as you do with physical CDs.

Redigi founder John Ossenmacher thinks there needs to be a major shift in how ownership of digital products is thought of:

The digital rights of citizens are being fought for. It’s a principle of commerce: when you buy it, you own it. For those that would like to see it changed to “when you buy it, we still own it”, we say their position is a losing one.

The case, yet to be settled, could set a precedent for consumer rights to treat digital purchases in the same way as physical ones. Redigi is looking to expand into Europe, where the recent European Court of Justice has recently ruled that you should be allowed to resell software licenses.

The Redigi approach seems pretty fair to me. It uses software that checks if your music files have been purchased legally. It then erases these files from your own machine while it uploads them to its own second-hand marketplace. Easy as that.

Clearing out my old CD collection is still on my to-do list. One day, I’d like the same rights with my purchased MP3 collection.


This has been a problem for several years now, which is why I still insist of having a disc in my grubby mitts. If for no other reason than if the device I’m using it on breaks, I still have the disc. Not sure what to do about “oh, can I download it again please my PC/phone/ has broken and I’ve lost my digital copy”. I can imagine the simple answer being “of course, after you’ve paid for another copy”.

There are benefits to being a pessimist. Other than you’re never let down only pleasantly surprised if something works 🙂


It seems to me that providing your digital copy is erased when you pass the download on to someone else, it should be legal. The problem is ensuring you don’t keep a copy (e.g. on another device). Same as copying a CD or DVD for yourself and then selling the original. How can this be verified? Going off topic, but similar, it irritates me when I have bought a parking ticket, not used the full time, but technically am not permitted to pass it on to another driver – I reckon I’ve paid for a space for the full period so should be able to hand it on. I expect charges would then increase to compensate. Same thing would happen with downloads if they could be passed on – price increase because of reduced sales?


There is a reason why packing tickets cannor be passed on. It’s to avoid the following situation:

You park. You buy a ticket. I park. I do not buy a ticket. I receive a fine. I buy your old ticket. I use your old ticket as “proof” that I bought a ticket. I avoid the fine.


@Paul – Officially, the offence is “failing to display” a parking ticket, not failing to buy one. Therefore, the scenario you describe is not a reason for them to prohibit selling your unexpired ticket. You physically can’t display the same ticket in two cars at the same time.


No, but you can physically display the same ticket in two cars at the different times. However you are prohibited to do so by their rules which states they are non-transferable.


This reminds me of a related matter. There is uncertainty when it comes to inheritance. When you die, does your digital collection become part of your estate, which can be inherited? Or does it go back to the companies you bought them from, at no extra cost to these companies? I remember reading about this issue on Which? some time ago but can’t find it.


We wrote about digital inheritance on Which? Conversation back in February this year:


It seems as though we ‘rent’ rather than buy digital downloads. Does that seem fair to you?


Katie you say “It seems as though we ‘rent’ rather than buy digital downloads” re the inheritance question you reply to does this mean it is rented for your lifetime.


It’s encouraging to hear that some companies allow you to transfer your downloads to your heirs after you die, but for those companies that don’t, could this be interpreted as age discrimination? Older people would be effectively charged more per year than younger ones.

John M says:
29 November 2012

I never download music. Instead, I buy CDs and rip from them. The big advantage is that I can choose the bitrate and file format to suit the particular player, and the storage available.

Storage is getting much cheaper, so I can rip in lossless format now if I choose.


I am not sure if “rent” is the right term? If I buy an original work – a book, a painting for example – I can sell that to someone else when I choose, but cannot make a copy for myself and keep it. When I die the original work is the property of my estate and passed to whoever – not returned to the original vendor. This is fair.
Why should downloads be treated any differently? In both cases the difficulty lies in policing the making of copies – isn’t it very much easier to copy a music download? If so this is a situation of the vendors’ making – they set up a means of making large revenues and this is a consequential downside isn’t it? The EU ruling seems logical and fair – it is up to the vendors to set up systems to ensure the process is not abused.


I started buying digital downloads from Amazon as they were cheaper than the physical CD, and of course took up no physical storage space. However Amazon have recently revised their pricing policy for mp3s and in some cases the downloaded album is more expensive than the CD. This particularly applies to older re-issues. For example I purchased a downloaded album for £3.99, vs the CD for £10.97 in September, which was a bit saving. However the price of the downloaded album has now increased to a ridiculous £12.99, whilst the CD remains at £10.97. This is not an isolated example, there are lots of instances where the CD is cheaper than the downloaded album.


Many albums can be bought second-hand on auction sites for very little money, once they’ve been out for a few months and gone out of the charts. And if you just wanted an MP3, it doesn’t matter how tatty the second-hand disc is (as long as it’s readable) as you are only using it for ripping. And if you no longer want that music, I think you can legally resell the CD as long as you delete your MP3s.