Amazon has a patent on selling used ebooks — are we doomed?

A few months ago I vented about the possible advent of a market for used ebooks, which (if legal) would doom the quaint custom of writing in return for money. Now it turns out the Amazon has patented a way to create a digital marketplace for ebooks and other kinds of digital objects. As this Wired article describes it, the mechanism would be similar to the one used by Amazon’s Kindle e-book lending process.  When you lend the ebook book, your access to it is cut off for the term of the loan.

The proposed used digital marketplace would take that one step further. Instead of loaning the access rights of an e-book, music file, video or application, in exchange for some cash, the original owner of the digital file would transfer the rights to use that file to another party permanently.

If the file were downloaded to a device, after the sale, the original owner would be unable to access the file. the data would still be on the device until deleted by the original owner, but access to the contents of that file would be turned off.

The Wired article floats various theories about what Amazon is up to here.  The one that makes most sense to me is that this is just another way for Amazon to bypass traditional book publishers and record companies. For authors to get a cut of the resale money, they might have to deal directly with Amazon, rather than via a middleman.  I can’t imagine that Amazon wouldn’t offer some kind of royalty on these resales, because then they risk having top authors simply refuse to publish their works for the Kindle.  But I could be wrong–nothing seems to have stopped Amazon from selling used print books.  And, as the Wired article points out, used ebooks aren’t going to have dogeared pages or ripped covers.  They’d be just as good as the new version, only cheaper.  Who wouldn’t like that–except the starving author?

1 thought on “Amazon has a patent on selling used ebooks — are we doomed?

  1. It’s always possible that Amazon patented the method in order to prevent anyone from using it, and thus protecting their income from new ebook sales. That’s my hope, anyway, especially since a Cambridge firm has already trotted out just such a system (which, perhaps, might run afoul of Amazon’s patent). If not, we could be in real trouble.

    If the books are DRM-free, there’s absolutely nothing except honesty to prevent someone from selling a “used” copy, and keeping the original. Even if there is DRM, it’s so easy to remove, it wouldn’t be any real protection.

    Well, I’ve gone DRM-free on the theory that most people are basically honest, and most people want authors to make *something* from their work. I can only stick to that theory and hope for the best.


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