Amazon Earns Patent for Reselling E-Books
Amazon just received a patent to create a marketplace where people can sell their 'used' e-books, audio files, apps and other digital things. It's still unclear whether such a marketplace would be legal and, if so, what company or companies would offer the service.
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Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, people used to sell their old books when they moved cross-country, or donate read tomes to the local library. That might be less common today. E-book sales have overtaken print book sales in the United States and the United Kingdom and there's no easy way to sell old titles stored in a Kindle, Nook or another e-reader — for now.
That may change in the future. Amazon received a patent Jan. 29 that covers a marketplace for moving digital books, audio files, video files, apps and more from one device to another. Once the new device receives the "used" e-book, podcast or other digital object, the file gets deleted from the original device.
It's just like selling a physical book, CD or DVD. The patent even has a provision that mimics the lifetime of physical objects. "When a digital object exceeds a threshold number of moves or downloads, the ability to move may be deemed impermissible and suspended or terminated," the patent's abstract reads.
Amazon may not immediately open up such a marketplace. Companies regularly file for patents they don't plan to use soon, or ever. The new patent does bring up interesting questions about whether reselling digital files is legal, and who may broker such resales in the future.
When it comes to whether resales are legal, the main issue is whether the First Sale doctrine applies to e-books and other digital files, Paid Content reported in December. As Paid Content explains, "First Sale says that the publisher has no control over what you do with a media product once you buy it. Used bookstores, video rental stores, and libraries all owe their existence to First Sale."
First Sale is difficult to translate to the digital world, however, because it requires companies to either trust that people will delete all the copies of their sold files, or develop a secure, automatic deleting mechanism.
U.S. courts will consider a couple big digital First Sale cases this year, the Washington Post reported. One such case is record label EMI's prosecution of ReDigi, a startup that runs an online marketplace for reselling music files.
ReDigi also brings up who will control a digital marketplace, if it's legal. Amazon's patent sounds like it may cover what ReDigi does. If the startup prevails in its court case, it'll be a good precedent for Amazon's new patent. At the same time, the patent may prevent ReDigi or any other company from running a digital resale marketplace.
ReDigi released a statement yesterday (Jan. 6) that explains how its technology differs from Amazon's patent.