Will We Soon Be Able to Resell E-Books and Digital Music?

Apple and Amazon appear to be building systems for selling used e-books, as well as digital music, movies and software. Publishers and media companies aren’t thrilled.


The New York Times reports there’s a battle brewing between the biggest vendors of digital books and music – Amazon and Apple – and the industries still stuck in the physical realm.

Both the big As have filed patents for systems that will further encroach on the territory of traditional media companies. Amazon’s patent was approved in January, and looks like a digital swap meet, with a cut for Amazon and a lower price for consumers.

The U.S. Patent Office published Apple’s plans last week. Here’s how the NYT describes it:

Apple’s application outlines a system for allowing users to sell or give e-books, music, movies and software to each other by transferring files rather than reproducing them. Such a system would permit only one user to have a copy at any one time.

Currently, our digital purchases are legally treated more like licensed long-term rentals. (Last fall, a rumor circulated that Bruce Willis was suing Apple to draw attention to the issue.) Sometimes we can’t even transfer our files to another system we own, let alone give them or sell them to somebody else. But if these systems allowed us to infinitely recycle our books, they’d much more closely mimic what we can do with physical copies.

And that’s a threat to the traditional publishing and media industries, of course. It could also be an issue for libraries and for authors. Between plunging prices for used media and the cut Apple and Amazon would take, there would be less for the people actually producing and distributing these products.

Stacy Johnson

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