Thomas Edison's crappy, price-fixing EULA

Mark sez, "I brought a few Edison Cylinders in for the elementary kids we're coaching for a Maker-like school competition called Mind Games here in Richmond, VA. (Innovation, compare to iPhone, etc). Since they'll be returning to the idea later I thought some pics would save the 100-year old pieces a grubby-fingered death. That's where the 35-cent price floor jumped out at me. I knew he was brutal about IP, but dayyum, international price cartels too?"

Patented in Great Britain, Germany, France and other Countries. This record is sold upon the condition that it shall not be re-sold to or by any unauthorized dealer or used for duplication, and that it shall not be sold, or offered for sale, by the original, or any subsequent purchaser (except by authorized jobber or factor to an authorized retail dealer) for less than 35 cents in the United States, nor in other countries for less than the price given in the current Edison catalogues of the country in which it is sold. Upon any breach of this condition, the license to use and vend this record, implied from such sale, immediately terminates.
EULA - End User License Agreement. Edison invented that, too (Thanks, Mark!)

See also: Record industry DRM from 1907


  1. That’s the thing. Since they started printed books they have been trying to hammer home an EULA, and with every generation of new technology comes the cultural legal Luddites to try and scare people with fear mongered nonsensical forced contracts. Only to have their greed proven wrong eventually by a court or economic reality.

  2. You know Tesla would have given it to the world for free, just to benefit future generations of humanity.

  3. My brother has, in his bathroom, an earthenware bottle of similar vintage which has a EULA on it stating what you’re allowed to use it for. I shall endeavour to get pictures.

  4. bananachair, are you trying to be arch/ironic? I don’t know about tesla, but Dr. Salk gave his polio vaccine away for the benefit of humanity.
    Good people do that sometimes, that is , something for the good of others without reward.
    I know that’s contrary to neo-con/neo-lib theology, but so what?

  5. Ya know, both Ontario (in retail stores) and Quebec (in their pubs) have recently enforced price floors on the price of beer.
    I suspect we shall see more “minimum floor prices”, should deflation really start to bite.
    As to lawyers, we little people need a thick forest of Laws to hide in. Some lawyers are like brush-clearers, others are like tree-planters.
    As to “what we shall do” with them, use them as you would any other tool.
    Boy have I seen some people hurt themselves through the ignorant use of tools.

  6. Mr. Kalashnikov never got any royalties for his little invention. And he’s still alive.

    Then again, the kalashnikov has killed millions if not hundreds of milllions of people.

    I still prefer him to the RIAA.


  7. “it shall not be resold”

    Wow. A forewarning of the RIAA’s attempt to keep stores from selling used CD’s a century later?

  8. not everyone can afford these tools, and yet they are cut by them. Is it ethical for a struggling single mother who finds herself sued by RIAA lawyers over her child’s music download to strike at the agent of her suffering? Asymmetric warfare?

  9. Well arguably, part of the reason for this onerous EULA was that the cylinders were NOT protected by copyright.

  10. @drhaggis — Hadn’t seen that post, but the EULA was the news in Xeni’s piece. As I said in the note that Cory posted (I’m Mark), the ridiculous price-fix idea is the little gnome that popped out for me.

  11. It sounds threatening, but it’s legal nonsense. A sale implies that you pass ownership of the goods. You can’t license a right to use something to the person who already owns it. Similarly, you don’t have privity of contract between the original seller and the buyer one transaction down the line from the original one.

  12. In Edison’s defense: you should know that at that time there were literally no laws whatsoever regarding copyright for sound recordings. One amusing fact is that right at the outset of the recording industry, the companies that subsequently became the titans of the entertainment world started out by copying each others’ recordings. There was nothing that could be done legally at the time that could stop copiers, so recording companies added these sorts of EULAs so that at least the original publisher could go after the infringer for contract violation.

    Edison was not at all alone in this. In fact, due to some shenanigans in the courts at the time, the Victor Talking Machine Company was forced to “lease” its records, not sell them. They had an even more restrictive EULA, which you can see on the pictures of the labels here:

  13. @11
    Are you talking about JUST the AK-47, or do you mean all weapons bearing the Kalashnikov brand? Because I thought the guy designed the AK-47 for the Soviet military, giving them all rights to the design along the way. But the company still exists, and they still make different models today.

    As for the Edison EULA: yeah, Edison was an ass. He wasn’t exactly known for being a kindly old man, after all, but rather as a brutally effective businessman.

  14. @fouroboros I brought up the previous post, not to criticize, but to inform. This one is a little different, with the noted price fix inclusion. I don’t think the “See also” was there when it first came up.

    Electronic copies and Creative commons would have made Edison’s head explode. Not out of confusion, but out of the lack of control he would have over the process.

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