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Amazon to sell used ebooks

Amazon has won a patent for technology that will enable an "electronic marketplace for used digital objects".

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read

Amazon has won a patent for technology that will enable an "electronic marketplace for used digital objects".

(Credit: Amazon; CBSi)

In news that made us double-, then triple-take, Amazon is seeking to create a marketplace for second-hand ebooks.

It's not as far-fetched as it sounds; a service called ReDigi, which has been around since October 2011, already allows you to sell (that is, transfer) the licences for purchased iTunes music.

Essentially, Amazon's software will operate in a similar manner — transferring the DRM of a digital object from one user to another, presumably at a cost reduced from that of the "new" ebook; so what the users are selling is the licence, not the content itself, as per Amazon's Terms of Use:

Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.

We're of two minds. While on the one hand, it offers a solution to one of the cited "cons" of ebooks over physical books — that is, the ability to resell when you are finished with it — as well as cheaper ebooks, since there's no such thing as wear and tear on a digital file, on the other, it cuts the author out of the profits.

ReDigi has responded to the patent by calling the legality of Amazon's system into question, saying:

As ReDigi understands Amazon's patent, it is for a marketplace that employs a seller to buyer "copy and delete" mechanism, in which a user sells a "copy" of a digital good to another user while both the buyer and seller simultaneously own the copy (even if only for an instant in time), and then supposedly/subsequently the seller's copy is "deleted". ReDigi takes no position on the legality of this technique under copyright law, but simply notes that it has been central to the music and publishing industries' scepticism and opposition to a "used" digital marketplace, and that the ReDigi Marketplace does not use this technique.

It is worth noting that while ReDigi announced its intention to introduce ebooks into its marketplace in July of last year, Amazon's patent was filed in 2009.

You can read Amazon's full patent for a secondary market for digital objects here.