Via Charles A. Tan on Twitter I discovered this report of what might be a very significant legal ruling in the USA. The decision relates to how MP3 music files are sold, but as the article notes it could apply to any sort of download.
The issue is that traditionally content creators have been paid different royalties depending on whether their work is sold outright, or licensed for restricted use. Royalties for licensing are normally much higher. Lawyers acting for Eminem have argued (successfully now) that online downloads of their client’s work is licensing, not selling, and that therefore the higher royalties are due.
The key point here, however, is not that the music is sold (or licensed) online, but the terms of that transaction. If, like Amazon, you “sell” a book with DRM, and reserve the right to take it back at any time, that’s a license. If you sell it without DRM, and allow the customer to keep it forever, sell it on, load it to friends and so on, that’s a sale.
Of course what will probably happen is that media companies will start re-writing their contracts so that works sold under license no longer earn high royalties. So in the long term it won’t help your favorite authors or artists much to buy digital.
Of course you could always opt to buy your ebooks from stores that offer them DRM free and take a small cut of the sale price.