In late January, Amazon received patent No. 8,364,595 for a "secondary market in digital objects." The patent describe an electronic marketplace for used e-books, music, video, computer applications and other digital content that is transferred by moving, streaming or download to another digital storage.
In Amazon's vision, after the content is transferred, the original content is deleted from the seller's storage. A digital object is allowed a certain number, or a threshold, of moves and downloads for a given owner, and when that number is reached the owner's rights to transfer expire.
In addition to being a sale, the transfer also could represent a rental, a gift, a loan or a trade. This approach, the patent says, maintains "scarcity" of the digital object by limiting the number of copies, and it implies there are an expanded set of rights obtained by the digital object's owner. "A 'used' digital object is one to which a user has legitimately obtained access or ownership rights," the patent said, "which the user may permissibly transfer to another user."
A start-up called ReDigi, based in Cambridge and launched in 2011, is already undertaking an actual used digital content market. ReDigi analyzes the material you want to sell, such as a song, to make sure it was purchased and not simply copied from some source. The file is then uploaded to ReDigi's cloud, and a ReDigi desktop program on the seller's machine makes sure the original is erased and no additional copies are made.
ReDigi is currently being sued by Capitol Records for copyright infringement, but ReDigi claims its approach is legal because the first-sale doctrine allows...