unloderUpdate: Welcome, Ebooknewser readers!

A couple of days ago I mentioned the IEEE working group that is working on a standard to use DRM to treat digital property more like “real” property. It turns out they aren’t the only ones working on that sort of solution. A few days ago, Mediabistro’s “Ebooknewser” blog reported on a company called Lexink, which was gearing up to let customers resell “used” digital property like MP3s, videos, or e-books.

(This is not the first time a startup has tried to do this. In 2008, a startup called “Bopaboo” wanted to work with record labels to allow resale of “used” MP3s. It was supposed to launch in 2009, but the last entry on its blog is from December 16, 2008, it last paid developers in February 2009, and the Bopaboo site itself doesn’t even open—so apparently that did not go according to plan. See the “Related” links at the end of this article.)

In a further Ebooknewser post, Jeremy Muller, Lexink’s VP of Technology Development, responded to comments from readers:

UNLODER works legally with licenses and DRM transmission through the metadata each individual digital work has embedded – implementation with publishers or resellers is the tricky part. Neither UNLODER nor Lexink have access to your computer, however the media seller/online store does. For example a book purchased via Amazon would be resold through Amazon, a book purchased iTunes would be resold via iTunes etc using UNLODER.”

This is all very well and good, but under this system there would be nothing preventing me, if I were so inclined, from cracking the DRM on an Amazon Kindle e-book and copying it out before reselling it, thus keeping a copy of the book that I had since “resold”. (DRM-based digital lending libraries have a similar problem.)

I’m a little skeptical that there is any incentive for digital content sellers to work with a company that allows reselling customer-purchased items, given that there is no “scarcity” or physical wear in digital items. There’s no reason to allow someone to buy or sell a “used” e-book that’s literally no different from a new one.

And as much as content publishers hate the used resale industry for physical objects, I have a hard time believing they’d want to let one get started for electronic items, too. Muller seems to see the ability to resell and buy “used” digital media as a possible antidote to piracy, though I’m not entirely sure how that is supposed to work.



  1. It’s an interesting idea. But I think pricing the books so more people can afford them, may be the more successful way to go. When someone buys a resale e-book, they don’t know if it is a legal copy or not. For people who care, they won’t use the service unless they can be sure they aren’t participating in piracy.

    Argh me hearties

  2. If I were to buy a magazine for $1, and sell it back to the magazine dealer for $0.75, and he puts it back up on the shelf to sell it for $0.90, but there is a NEW magazine(The exact same one) right next to it for $1. So Exactly how does this work?? The Dealer makes less money, the magazine publisher makes less money and the Consumer Will always buy the cheaper item if it’s the SAME. Digital Content is Disposable once it’s paid for. Either a new DRM system needs to be created or there has to be some sort of way to distinguish between the two. :G

  3. Legally you should be able to sell used digital media, bought legally with proof, just like a physical CD etc. I would also assume that purchasing used digital media from a site that verifies it’s source would also certify the new owner thus making your used media legal. Complicated to manage and open to hackers reselling media with tampered certificates or proof of purchase, a bonanza for anyone with hacking skill!

  4. Sounds like another bad idea in search of a problem. For over 10 years, I’ve made it my business to offer quality genre fiction at an affordable price–a price that means readers can keep the books they buy rather than try to recapture some small fraction of the value through used sales. With traditional books, which go out of print, used stores had the value of letting us readers find the back-list. In today’s digital world, the backlist is the product. Used sales of digital content are a bad deal for authors, publishers, and, ultimately, the readers. They benefit primarily used bookstores.

    Rob Preece

  5. As I said earlier, you can’t resell a “used” ebook in digital form. You can’t copy it onto a CD or whatever and sell that. You can, however, sell a physical copy created by the author or publisher. Since, to my knowledge, no publisher offers these any more the point is moot.

    See my link in my comments above for the details on the legalities.

    A few days ago, the question of selling a physical copy of software, even that which hasn’t been opened, has been put into question.

    Autocad has sued a dealer for selling unopened copies of software, and the Supreme Court has refused to settle the question.


    Digital media may prove to be outside of “Doctrine of First Sale.”

  6. Rob I believe your strategy is the one that really wins out. I have rarely been asked or tempted to sell any of my music collection because the perception among my friends and colleagues is that they are for sale at a fair price and we share links that lead to iTunes.
    Unfortunately the same doesn’t apply to eBooks in many cases, though not all as you correctly say, so we sell on eBook to each other from time to time. An old friend of mine who used to work for Sony in Japan but is home now and almost retired bought a major best seller about three months ago and paid about 20 dollars for it. He liked it but not that much and sold it to me for 6 dollars. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
    On the other hand I read a lot of 2.99 dollar eBooks and when I do find one that is really good I always circulate the link, rather than sell on.

    We bought them – we own them – we will do what we want with them because we are entitled to do so. End of.

  7. Digital media is simply not the same as physical media: It can’t be “handled” the same as physical media, in every sense of the word. “Doctrine of first sale” applies to physical media, but by definition has no hold over digital media. It’s apples and pixels. The longer we continue to confuse the two, the longer it will take for digital media to grow and develop… witness how long its already taken to move a few baby steps.

    The problem is, “We will do what we want” too often includes copying the file and passing the copy on. Unless any “used” system includes a thorough sweeping of your digital resources to make sure you haven’t copied the file you are “giving away,” the system is untenable.

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