Xbox One: Do we have a moral right to sell used games?

Xbox One: Do we have a moral right to sell used games?

Summary: Does Microsoft's machinations to limit how used games can be sold on Xbox One represent a fairer condition than the status quo? I think it does...

TOPICS: Microsoft
Xbox One - Used
Fancy selling your used Xbox One games? I'm not sure you should be able to.

So it looks like Microsoft is going to impose some restrictions on how used games can be sold.

The change appears to be that if you want to use a game on your Xbox One that had previously been "tied" to someone else's Xbox One (by virtue of it being run on the original owner's console first), you'd have to pay a fee via Microsoft to the game's publisher.

But let's say you buy a game, a book, a CD, a DVD, whatever, and you want to sell it on — is that actually right? Is it a morally defensible thing to do?

I'm not entirely sure that it is.


Back in 2000 I wrote a book called Beginning E-commerce. This book sold pretty well, mainly because of the title. (Although if I might perhaps be allowed a little immodesty, I think it was a rather good book, too.)

That book retailed for about $40. Of that $40, I received about $1.60 in royalties — i.e. about four percent of the retail price of the book.

However, for all the used copies of that book that got sold (and I bought a used copy myself once when I found it in a bookstore on holiday), neither myself nor the publisher received a penny.

One thing that's worth considering is what exactly is the author getting out of selling the book in the first place. Unless you're Dan Brown, it's hard to make a great living out of it. In the technical book market, it's very, very hard to make a living out of it that's better than just being an IT professional using the tools that you'd otherwise be writing about.

As an author (or as any form of writer), what you're really looking to do is deliver value to the reader. You're looking to change something — to light something up inside of them that actually makes a difference to their lives. That's why most people do it — it's not to spend our lives on Bahamian beaches sipping mojitos.

So when someone bought a copy of Beginning E-commerce and the publisher sent me my $1.60, in my head what that payment was for was "delivering value to the reader."

Where this is unfair for both the reader and the author is that the second person who owns that book receives the same notional value as the first, but doesn't have to pay for it. The original owner carries the can for both of them.

That's a bit broken, and as an author, that irks me.


Kindle is another good example of this. I'm a huge fan of Kindle — it's perhaps one of the most brilliant pieces of technology that has come along in the past ten years. But it breaks the rules about how people think of the value stored in books. I read a lot, and have always read a lot, but I own three physical books, as I've always sold them after I've read them. As such, the notional cost of any book for as long as I've bought books has always been whatever it cost me minus whatever I sold it for.

And of course on Kindle, you can't do that. The price you pay for that book is representative of the value that you will receive from it in total. You don't get to fix some of that value in a physical asset and sell it on.

For me the question is really whether what we've been used to — i.e. publishing systems where only the first people in the chain kick back money to those that created the intellectual property — is fair and justifiable.

Personally, I don't think it is — although I'd like it to continue as much as the next person because a cheap book/game is a cheap book/game, but I do wonder whether now is the time to get used to the idea of no longer being able to do it.

I don't think that the publishers involved in this are being money-grabbing or mean. I believe they are trying to right a situation that happened by accident, but that situation properly should never have been allowed to arise because of it's inherent unfairness.

The fact that we have a history of packaging intellectual property in physical form has created this situation. That created an implied value within the physical form itself — which is wrong. The value has never been in the physical form.

Yet consumer groups claim that it is. And this self-evidently is wrong. The value is in how the ideas presented within the intellectual property change one's mind. Whether it's information from non-fiction that gives you knowledge, or ideas in fiction that touch you and let you grow as a person, is it morally right to be able to sell that change back into the market? I don't think that it is.

Of course, an even fairer idea would be to give everything away for free and then have people simply pay a sum of money to the publisher and author commensurate with the value that they have received. But that one might be hard to pull off...

As a final thought, though, there are not many marketplaces emerging in our digital worlds where you can actually sell used content. There are no used content markets on Kindle, iTunes, Apple App Store, Google Play, et al. The concept just doesn't exist.

As soon as physical manifestations of digital value are gone (books replaced by Kindle or similar, all software via digital on-demand delivery, movies similarly) there won't be a used market for anything any more.

So we might as well get used to that. It's probably the right way to be anyway.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Image credit: Microsoft

Topic: Microsoft

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  • Irony Personified

    I agree completely that the author should get paid according to the number of people who view his work, not once up front, and not a pittance compared to the publishers rake off.

    "I don't think that the publishers involved in this are being money-grabbing or mean."
    Bolleaux. I shan't be looking for anything you write about e-commerce then!
    The publishers are trying to perpetuate a system to maintain their high revenue streams ... despite the arrival of a technology which renders them obsolete.
    There are several intermediaries in the commerce loop with the Internet could remove or marginalise: all digital media (books, video), personal banking, post office, ... these people should be going out of business.

    "I believe they are trying to right a situation that happened by accident ..."
    Accident my arse: they want a double or multiple cut - they aren't out to help the author at all.

    "That book retailed for about $40. Of that $40, I received about $1.60 in royalties."
    The apportionment should be $1.60 cloud commerce, $20 per reader.

    The 'fair' system you are half-thinking of is: cost+20% infrastructure and multiples of intellectual value times the number of readers.
    Certainly not as the current industries are: traditional profit margins despite growing customer base and technology advances and a small one-off percentage to the author.

    Crap post Matt: deep irony that it was about ecommerce :-(
    • Same principle applies to the 'new' software subscription model ...

      ... as being introduced by ADOBE and MSFT. As these two companies markets for Creative and Office products have matured, so it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify version upgrades at the old original purchase price. Their only resort is a lock-in strategy guaranteeing constant revenues.

      This would be fine if the subscription level reflected a lowering of value and a loyalty reward ... but it doesn't - it's just the same cost as before (an increase in MSFT's case) FOREVER.

      You people at ZDNET seen to have a poor grasp of commerce and the opportunities offered by the Internet.
    • used+items

    • Lower the price and i'm fine with it.

      Bring the price down of digitally delivered games to below $20.00 and I think it will more acceptable to everybody.
    • Dangerous Article

      When SJVN makes up statistics to make a frivolous point, that's bad journalism. But no on is likely to suffer much from his nonsense.

      This kind of blog post, however, is downright dangerous.

      //Absolutely// it is moral to resell copyrighted materials and we should //absolutely not// get comfortable with the kind of crap proposed here. Please just read this very short Wikipedia article on so called "safety valves" and then write up an apology for this post:

      What you are proposing would destroy the very idea of a library, for instance, which is a vital public good in an educated society. Eliminating first sale doctrine will fundamentally and negatively alter the delicate balance of power between the copyright holder the public interest in the dissemination of knowledge.
      x I'm tc
      • This whole article is baseless anyways.

        In reality, Microsoft is actually following the First Sale Doctrine, as they are actually allowing used games be sold at least one time.

        So yeah, the article is FUD, but Microsoft is at least not doing anything "wrong"
        Mitchell Foster
  • It's not so much the morality of it...

    It's not so much the "morality" of the situation that worries me. I agree that it would be nice to institute a regime whereby the publisher makes some money off used game sales. What has me more concerned is that these console games are selling for $50.00 at a time when mobile games are taking the world by storm at $.99 a pop. Sure, most of those are "freemium" games that may cost you more down the road, but even fully paid games on mobile devices don't cost much more than $7 to $10.00.

    Yes, I realize that the graphics and controls on phones and tablets don't begin to approach what's available on consoles, but they're definitely getting better, and for a good segment of the population they're probably "good enough" that it's hard to justify spending the extra $40.00 to buy a console game that will keep them entertained for the same amount of time.

    Now there was a time when, even though the console game you really wanted cost $50.00, you knew that you could buy a couple of used games for $25 a pop and start to build up a nice collection. Also, you could sell your old games to have a little money in your pocket for the next purchase. By killing off the used game market, that option is gone.

    So my worry really is that these sorts of maneuvers could end up killing the console business. What we need, IMHO is a used game market very much like what we've had up to now, but where some of the profits of the used sale go back to the publisher. If Microsoft and publishers can manage that then it'll be all good. If not I'm not sure the console business can survive.
    • Cut out the middleman

      By cutting out the middle man it's possible to shrink the prices.

      Assuming the online reseller charges a reasonable percentage of the price, not something ridiculous like 30%, that allows for a much larger percentage to end up with the producer of the game.

      Possibly disallowing resale of a game is nothing I'm worried about. I'm worried about prices not coming down nearly as much as they should based on the new distribution model.

      I'm currently in a country where I can digitally purchase a copy of a hollywood movie in poor quality (SD), with only one language (the original language is not an option), no subtitles or extra content, and pay the same I would pay for a brand new DVD of the same movie.
      • Assuming they do cut the prices.

        It's possible that this will lower prices. Unfortunately, it's not likely.
        Third of Five
    • The morality should bother you

      It should keep you up at night.

      The shift away from first sale represents a fundamental rethinking of an IP system that has served us extremely well for hundreds of years.
      x I'm tc
  • Next time you sell your car

    Don't forget to send the manufacturer his cut.
    • Yeah!

      Because a lot of cars nowadays are a recurring cost for car manufacturers.

      Michael Alan Goff
    • That seems like a very different thing.

      When someone manufacturers hardware they make a decent amount of profit from the start. With books, games, dvds, etc what your buying is more of less purely intellectual property. So it you choose to sell that the original developer gets nothing. Given that you don't own the IP you just of the right to view/read/use what that IP offers you, I do think reselling books, DVDs, and games is wrong as the original publisher gets nothing from the knowledge and ideas you are gaining from them.
      Sam Wagner
      • Re: Given that you don't own the IP

        How come they don't tell you that in the shop? You go to a bookshop to buy books, you go to a CD or DVD shop to buy CDs or DVDs, you even have advertising slogans saying things like "own it on DVD"--are these all just lies? Do you in fact own nothing at all?
  • First Sale

    While it's cute to say it's "not fair" that people can just sell or give away a book after initially reading it, in the united states at least it is clearly and explicitly legal to do so; not because of a nasty pirate loophole but because of the First Sale doctrine which is put in place precisely to limit a copyright owner's ownership of a product after the initial sale of the good.

    Digital goods are in a very grey area and as of yet it is not *illegal* to do what Microsoft is doing but I think it's questionable to discuss this as if selling, lending or trading copyrighted works was clearly an inappropriate thing and ignoring clear law that says, at least in the physical world, this is a clearly legal action (morality aside).
  • If I Buy Something, Do I Own It?

    If not, what am I buying?
    • Yes

      You own the disc. You are 100% free to sell that disc or give it to a friend.
    • ldo17.......nothing but a piece of plastic in the case of a dvd

      If Microsoft can get there way we'll all be life time renters of windows so that the price for lets say W-xp cost you originally (lets say) $95.00 12 years ago.....if it (W-xp) was a rental it would cost the end user $600.00 (based on $50.00 a year) after 12 years.

      Good for Microsoft...not so good for the end user..............
      Over and Out
  • No, No, No

    The fact that publishers screw authors, muscians and anyone else they can get their hands on has nothing to do with second sales. If you buy a product, you should own it. Subsequent sales are of a used devalued product that has no connection with the original publisher or artist. Their rights are exhausted, and that is the foundation of the Doctrine of First Sale. Without that Doctrine, very little would be sold. We would continuously be paying fees for things we buy, rent, trade ect. Put another way, do you feel like going to the library and coughing up the full sale price of a book you want to borrow or a CD you want to listen to? Of course not.

    What you have going on is Mega Corporations with tons of middle men, execs and shareholders that drain most of the profit from an item and throw the creator a bone. Bribes, price fixing and other factors figure in to the final price. Movies that gross many millions of dollars but on paper make no money.

    Don't blame the consumer for a corrupt system. We get shafted every day and in every way by corporations. The Doctrine of First Use helps to ease the pain.

    I don't see where the author lays the blame on where it really lays.
  • zdnet defending the powerful again.

    last friday you had an article defending the NSA and today we have zdnet is again taking a dump on their reader's rights.

    keep sucking up to your bosses guys, you are amazing at it!