Amazon lands patent on marketplace for selling on used digital content

Amazon has landed a patent for a second-hand digital market - a concept that has already attracted the ire of rights-holders elsewhere.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

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.

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