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iBook Lessons: Could Amazon create a used e-book market?


iBook Lessons is a continuing series about e-book writing and publishing.

This Slashgear writeup about a newly awarded Amazon patent just caught our eyes here at TUAW Central. Apparently, Amazon may be exploring an online used digital goods market.

Amazon proposes to establish an "electronic marketplace for used digital objects." If that sounds a little ridiculous and yet curiously intriguing to you, well, you're not alone.

The patent focuses on digital scarcity:

As use of digital objects increases, users may wish to transfer the digital objects to other users. These transfers may include a sale, a rental, a gift, a loan, a trade, etc. However, several problems manifest when transferring a digital object. While a physical object such as a copy of a paperback book only exists in one place at a time, easy and inexpensive copies of a digital object without loss of fidelity are possible. Thus, easy copying and repeated sale of the same digital object is possible, potentially eliminating scarcity of the digital object. Because of this, many owners implement digital rights management to prevent such impermissible transfers. Furthermore, the digital object as originally transferred to the initial purchaser may have license restrictions or other limitations on permissible use or further transfer. For example, a license to use a free download of a popular song may expire after a few days.

A secondary market which allows users to effectively and permissibly transfer "used" digital objects to others while maintaining scarcity is therefore desired. A "used" digital object is one to which a user has legitimately obtained access or ownership rights (hereinafter "access rights"), and to which the user may permissibly transfer to another user.

Obviously, the technology would cover a transfer of rights from one owner to the next, but how would one value and implement these transfers? Would there be a fixed cut or fee to the facilitator? Does the rights-holder get a cut? And how could one assign a monetary worth to a "new" license versus a "used" one? (After all, the bits are the same, aren't they? "There are five new copies of this product and three used ones" just sounds wrong when it comes to digital goods.)

You might imagine this transfer only being allowed for DRMed content that's centrally controlled, such as Amazon and Apple's current e-book systems. I don't see content providers going crazy for this unless they benefit directly. They are not generally, let us say, "relaxed parties" in these matters.

Because honestly, who wouldn't like to sell back or trade music, games and movies you no longer listen to, play with or watch?

Which makes me wonder. How much are all my free iTunes singles of the week worth in resale?

Yeah, that's what I thought too.

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