The legality of reselling promo CDsOctober 19, 2008
Since zed equals zee’s inception, about a year ago, I’ve gotten a decent number of CDs from promoters. Some of them I want to keep, but most of them aren’t worth the storage space, always a premium in my urban environment. I know that someone likes these bands, and I’d really like it if the CDs got listened to. And the easiest way to find those people is through the miracle of capitalism – I want to take the discs down to my local secondhand CD store, or put them on eBay. But many of them are stamped, “Promotional use only – not for resale.” So I was stuck – I didn’t want to have to store them, I certainly didn’t want to landfill them, I don’t personally know people to give them to, and it looked like I couldn’t sell them.
Fortunately, that last turns out not to be (legally) the case. The Legality, an online law review based out of the University of Oregon School of Law, has a useful and accessible article on the “First Sale Doctrine” and CDs. Basically, once you’ve bought the CD, you can do what you want with it – you can sell it, you can regift it to your Uncle Alfred, you can microwave it, whatever. This principle was recently affirmed for promo CDs, warning sticker or no. Universal Music filed suit against an enterprising individual who was scouting secondhand CD stores for rare promos and reselling them to collectors. The California courts ruled that, once the record companies hand them out, that’s the equivalent to selling them – they lose control of what happens.
Of course, with everything going on in the music industry today, it’s hard to imagine that bringing suit over the disposition of the physical objects is really worth the effort.