Want This Here 'Used Digital Object'? Amazon Patents That Marketplace

3 minute read
Barry Levine avatar

Would you be interested in buying a “used digital object”? Amazon thinks that people will be, and it has just gotten a patent for such a secondary market.

The patent, Patent no. 8,364,595, first filed in 2009 and then awarded on January 29 of this year, describes a system for participants to sell, trade, give or loan once-owned digital objects, including used digital games, audio books, e-books, movies or apps. It’s like an eBay plus a library lending program for anything on your computer, tablet or smartphone.

The ReDigi Example

In Amazon’s patent, the used content would be accessible via transfer by moving, streaming or downloading. If a user no longer wants the used digital object, it can be moved to someone else’s data store, but only after it is deleted from the mover’s storage.

Of course, there are a few obstacles that the giant retailer will have to figure out, not the least of which are copyright or right of resale. Amazon’s patent attempts to address these issues by setting up a system to maintain a digital object’s “scarcity,” and by postulating that a user could have “legitimately obtained access or ownership rights” which that user can then “permissibly transfer to another user.”

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Amazon is not the first to have thought of this kind of marketplace. Last year, for instance, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company named ReDigi launched with a new approach to the idea of reselling your purchased music.

Learning Opportunities

ReDigi first analyzes the metadata of the song to ensure that it was legitimately purchased and not, say, ripped from a CD. After the file has been uploaded to ReDigi, the service’s desktop program on the seller's computer makes sure the copies of that file are erased and no copies are subsequently added.

Object Move Threshold

ReDigi claims its approach is legal because the first-sale doctrine allows a user to resell a legitimately-purchased item, such as a book or a CD. But legal scholars have said the law is unclear about applying this concept to the digital realm, where a copy is made. Earlier this month, Capitol Records filed suit against ReDigi for copyright infringement.

Amazon’s patent includes an approach that also limits the number of copies. In order to “maintain scarcity” of a digital object in the marketplace, the patent said, “an object move threshold (“OMT”) may be set.” The OMT is the limit to the “number of transfers” that can legitimately be made to other “personalized data stores.”

Once the OMT is reached, such as “three permissible moves of the song to other personalized data stores,” the used digital object’s “ability to move may be deemed impermissible and suspended or terminated.”

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