I’ve written quite a few pieces here about the various attempts to try to create a workable digital resale market—most recently with digital music resale firm ReDigi, which is currently engaged in a legal dispute with music label EMI over its activities.

Now it looks as if, as with a lot of its digital media sales, Amazon may have achieved yet another leg up on the competition. On paidContent, Laura Hazard Owen reports that Amazon has been awarded a patent on the idea of a marketplace for “used” digital content. Amazon applied for it back in 2009, and it was granted on January 29th, 2013.

Amazon’s system includes built-in limits for how many times a digital item might be resold—putting me in mind of the limits publishers have imposed on library e-book checkouts. According to a statement by ReDigi, however, it covers a different file transfer method than ReDigi uses and doesn’t include the sort of verification system ReDigi uses to ensure that users don’t try to cheat and keep backup copies.

ReDigi also notes that Amazon has never compensated publishers for resales of used content, whereas it, on the other hand, wants to offer the original publishers and artists a piece of the resale pie—so it might be better to worry more about Amazon than little ol’ them.

I’m personally starting to wonder what use Amazon could intend for the patent. Does it seriously intend to try its luck with allowing consumers to resell or trade their used digital content? Hasn’t it given publishers enough reasons to be upset with it already?

On the other hand, Amazon does have a history of using patents as a weapon against businesses doing things it didn’t like—most famously slapping Barnes & Noble down over its patent on the idea of one-click purchasing. So maybe it doesn’t intend to use the patent itself at all for its stated purpose, but instead sees it as an insurance policy. After all, as a vendor of new digital content, Amazon could stand to be hurt just as much as anyone else if reselling used digital content gets off the ground. So perhaps it plans to use this patent offensively if reselling digital content is found legal.

Regardless, the fact that even Amazon is interested in it suggests what a hot-button topic the idea of reselling digital content is. And Amazon has a history of doing things others consider crazy and turning out in retrospect to be crazy like a fox—such as when it tried an e-ink reader, which no one had ever done successfully before, and effectively jump-started the entire e-book industry. As goes Amazon, so goes the rest of publishing? It will be interesting to see what comes of this.


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