Amazon lands patent on marketplace for selling on used digital content

Amazon lands patent on marketplace for selling on used digital content

Summary: Amazon has landed a patent for a second-hand digital market - a concept that has already attracted the ire of rights-holders elsewhere.


Amazon has been awarded a patent on a marketplace that could be used to resell second-hand digital goods.

The US Patents and Trade Office awarded Amazon Patent No. 8,364,595 — which covers an electronic marketplace where digital content can be transferred between users a limited number of times — in late January, after the company applied for it in 2009.

The patent describes a marketplace where digital goods such as "e-books, audio, video, computer games, etc" that are purchased from an original vendor are stored in a personalised data store. Amazon's idea is that users can sacrifice their right to access "the now-used digital content" and move it to another person's data store. 

In some ways, the patent merely describes a digital locker, but one that permits trade and imposes scarcity on the digital goods in order to address questions around the "first sale" doctrine — a legal principle that limits the rights of copyright and trademark owners and allows protected material to be resold.

"A secondary market which allows users to effectively and permissibly transfer 'used' digital objects to others while maintaining scarcity is therefore desired," it notes.

First-sale is the subject of an ongoing legal dispute between US-based "pre-owned digital marketplace" ReDigi and Capitol Records. ReDigi, which launched in October 2011, allowed its users to upload purchased iTunes files to its cloud, drawing the ire of Capitol Records, which asked a court in the US to shut the service down.

ReDigi's service prevents the seller from accessing the sold file on both ReDigi and through their iTunes account, according to Wired (thereby achieving the scarcity Amazon refers to in its patent).

Amazon's second-hand digital marketplace would create scarcity by limiting, via a counter it describes in the patent, the number of times a digital object may be transferred.

"These thresholds help to maintain scarcity of digital objects in the marketplace and/or to comply with licensing requirements of the digital object, by putting conditions on when and how many times used digital objects may be transferred," Amazon explains.

The thresholds could be set for each object by category, for example all movies, or a particular title, the patent says. Access and transfer rights could also be imposed depending on the content: for example, a user might only have the right to stream an object in their store, but be unable to move it to another user's store.

Topics: Amazon, E-Commerce, Legal, Patents

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • Nice one Amazon...

    ... I can feel how painful that kick in the balls of free information was from down here, in south america.
  • Wow! GREAT idea!

    I have a Sansa iPod clone from several years ago that plays mp3's but not mp4's. So everything I download from iTunes I have to convert to mp3, meaning I have both an mp4 copy and an mp3 copy that isn't registered in iTunes. And, of course, since Windows Media Player can play mp4's, I could simply copy my iTunes folders too.

    Great idea that once I upload to ReDigi I can no longer access the mp4 version in iTunes. Great way to protect the rights of companies that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars recording and promoting albums.

    And since when does a digital locker and counter meet the standard for patentability that the idea must be "new, useful, and not obvious to a person with ordinary skill in the art"?
    • Well said.

      Companies are getting patent crazy these days. Patenting ideas other companies are already using, patenting uses for a material someone else created and hasn't released to market yet and of course patenting the completely obvious.
      • Well said

        The art of mimicking real life and patenting it, is well and truly alive.

        Fair enough it's new for digital media but should it have been possible for someone to patent the digital equivalent of a record fair or flea market? Positively amazing what passes for innovation these days.
        Little Old Man
      • It's all they got left

        But their lobbyists... makes for a nice cozy redefinition of "democracy", doesn't it?

        Seems closer to "corporatism", though...
    • Should come as fair use

      Not sure about US, but in quite a few places, there is a fair use clause, while allows you to make copies for your own use and preservation, etc.
      • Complicated

        These days, when you purchases digital media, you buy the licence to listen, nothing physical. Some licences allow for multiple copies, some don't. This system is about giving up your licence and passing it to someone else, not making 'backup' copies.

        I do wonder what the charge will be when amazon revoke my licence to listen and then I get caught with the mp3's merrily playing in my car. They can only control music stored in their cloud, not on USB sticks etc.
        Little Old Man
  • "They" didn't build it!

  • Sure...

    Great idea, if you buy into the notion that enforcing artificial scarcity of effectively infinite goods is desirable.
  • The patent system must be changed

    Its bad for industry and commerce for this kind of thing to be patent able.
    • No, it's a good system

      All you need is the money, ability to compete, and file before anyone else does.

      Oh, wait, it really IS bad for industry and commerce... oh, and those useless things such as the workers and thinkers who make the companies rich with their labor...
  • There Is No Scarcity For Digital Content.

    Peer to peer networks fixed this a decade ago.
  • How do digital items depreciate?

    More to a point, thanks to "patent reform" quietly passed last year by both parties and signed just as quietly by President 'Change' himself... it's not the first who invents/innovates but the one who first files the concept. So the large companies will patent everything even remotely fathomable... The moment anyone does the actual work to patent, the patent holder will scream "MINE!!!" and take that hard work away.