July 2, 2014

Digital resale case in the Netherlands raises questions about secondhand ebooks


Does ownership of an ebook mean that you can resell it?

Does ownership of an ebook mean that you can resell it?

A website called Tom Kabinet launched last week in the Netherlands which allows consumers to trade their legally purchased ebooks. The creators of the website say that ebooks are too expensive. To address this issue, and to allow consumers to monetize their ebook collections—users can upload epub files to the website and are supposed to remove the file from their own computers. Tom Kabinet puts a new watermark on the file and then shares the proceeds with the sellers. The website conducts its business on the honor system and requires users to sign a statement to agree to follow the rules.

“Sell ​​your used e-books. Safe and legal” the website’s tagline promises in Dutch. But publishers don’t agree.

They’re bringing a major lawsuit against the website, after issuing an ultimatum for the website to shut down by June 27th at 2pm. The publisher’s association says that selling used ebooks is illegal and point to a case in Germany last year that established that ebooks, audiobooks, and music cannot be resold, even going so far to suggest that everyone knows that “digital files can be passed along more easily and without [consumers] having to delete their own copy, thus facilitating infringement. With this knowledge, consumers expect their usage of digital files to be restricted.”

Meanwhile, Tom Kabinet creators say they refuse to shut down their website, and believe that they are protected by a 2012 European Union ruling in the case of UsedSoft vs Oracle that all software can be resold. It’s unclear if that case applies to ebooks and digital music too, and this case in the Netherlands may have to decide.




Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.