Apple has been awarded a patent that, if ever implemented, would be a dream come true for iTunes users. The patent titled "Managing access to digital content items" was discovered by AppleInsider and details an implementation that would allow iTunes users to loan or resell items they purchased from the iTunes store. These items could include books, movies, music and TV shows.
The patent describes the ability for users to loan or sell "used" content to another person by effectively transferring their rights of ownership to them. An actual file transfer would not be necessary. For example, if a user wanted to sell a used copy of Finding Nemo, he or she would notify the iTunes Store of their forfeiture of rights to that copy and identify the new owner. The new owner could then download a copy of Finding Nemo for free.
There is no evidence in the patent that Apple is considering a used marketplace in the iTunes Store. Any payment for used items would be dealt with outside of iTunes. What the patent allows for is essentially a rights-management database a user has control of.
Content creators could also impose limits over the original owner's ability to transfer in this way. For example, a book publisher could say that an original owner is not allowed to resell or give away their rights to an e-book they purchased for at least 12 months past the book's original date of publication. Apple's technology would double check that a user's request meets all the requirements of the content creators and would accept or reject a digital rights management transfer request based on those parameters.
If Apple does implement the system described in this patent, it would address an issue that's bothered some users ever since digital music purchases became the norm instead of physical media like CDs. Namely, in a world were digital purchases are tied to one user's account, how do we pass on our media like books, music and movies to our relatives or friends? This issue has arisen frequently in the last few years when someone with a large iTunes collection passes away and there is no easy way to transfer their legally owned content on to the next of kin.
As exciting and extensive as this patent is, readers should keep in mind that Apple patents many things that never see the light of day. However, as this patent addresses significant and important ownership issues in the digital age, let's hope it comes to fruition soon.