That’s not the only way in which the new copyright laws place the public in a worse position in the digital world than in the analog world. A venerable principle of copyright law is the first-sale doctrine: Once a lawful copy of a book or other work is sold or given away, the owner of that copy can turn around and resell it or give it away without permission or payment. That’s why we can have second-hand bookstores. But if the transaction is considered a license, as with e-books, then the first-sale doctrine doesn’t apply, as thousands of startled Amazon.com purchasers found out when their copies of George Orwell’s “1984” were remotely removed from their Kindles by Amazon, after Amazon determined that its source wasn’t authorized.
Digital locks can be used not just with individual consumers, but also with libraries. Last March, HarperCollins stunned the library world by announcing that a license to lend its e-books will expire after 26 loans.