Amazon (s AMZN) has won a patent for an “electronic marketplace” where users can resell digital content. The company had filed for the patent in 2009 and it was awarded on January 29, 2013.
GeekWire first reported the news. Here’s the description of the patent:
Digital objects including e-books, audio, video, computer applications, etc., purchased from an original vendor by a user are stored in a user’s personalized data store. Content in a personalized data store may be accessible to the user via transfer such as moving, streaming, or download. When the user no longer desires to retain the right to access the now-used digital content, the user may move the used digital content to another user’s personalized data store when permissible and the used digital content is deleted from the originating user’s personalized data store. When a digital object exceeds a threshold number of moves or downloads, the ability to move may be deemed impermissible and suspended or terminated. Additionally or alternatively, a collection of objects may be assembled from individual digital objects stored in the personalized data stores of different users, and moved to a user’s personalized data store.
Users’ rights to resell digital content is already a contentious issue under copyright law. Startup ReDigi, which allows users to resell digital music, says its model is legal according to U.S. copyright law’s “first sale” doctrine, which lets people resell physical content. But the record label EMI (s EMI) is suing ReDigi, claiming that digital files can’t be resold like physical objects because there is no way to ensure that the “original” digital file was deleted. A court will rule on the case this year, and the outcome could have implications for Amazon’s marketplace.
Amazon’s patent for this marketplace is likely to muddy the legal waters even further. If the patent is as broad as it seems, Amazon could theoretically bar ReDigi and everyone else from offering a resale market in the first place. The company, after all, has spent years in court fighting to own the right to “one-click shopping” based on a 1999 patent.
As for the “electronic marketplace” patent itself, Amazon appears to take account of copyright owners’ concerns. The patent outlines a system to “maintain scarcity” of content: “a threshold may limit how many times a used digital object may be permissibly moved to another personalized data store, how many downloads (if any) may occur before transfer is restricted, etc….These limits may be set for a specific digital object, a digital object type (such as a particular title of book), a digital object category (such as all movies), etc….Alternatively, a user’s ability to access the used digital object by streaming may also be limited upon the occurrence of certain events.” It’s not clear, though, how the system would ensure that a user hadn’t stored a copy of the file somewhere other than his or her “personalized data store.”