At least, until last week. Last week, a US court decided that the first sale doctrine was only valid for physical goods and not for digital goods. It was bad news for ReDigi. It may also be bad news for Apple and Amazon. Both companies recently filed patents for a market place of used digital songs. Interestingly, their respective approaches are different.
Amazon filed on May 5, 2009, a patent entitled “Secondary market for digital objects”. Claim 1 is extremely broad. It is mainly the idea that the digital object to be sold is stored in a first personalized data store, and once the transfer requested, transfer it to a personalized data store for the new owner and then deleting the initial instance from first data store.
This is rather basic. It describes a kind of direct transfer. The patent becomes more interesting with claim 2 and following ones. The piece of content has a counter of authorized transfers. Once the threshold reached, the digital object cannot be anymore exchanged/sold.
2. The system of claim 1, wherein the one or more business rules comprise a move limit business rule, and wherein authorizing transfer of the used digital object further comprises: initializing an object move counter to count a number of moves of the used digital object between personalized data stores; setting an object move threshold, the object move threshold defining a number of times the used digital object can be moved; applying the move limit business rule stored in memory to determine whether to authorize or deny the request for transfer of the used digital object, application of the move limit business rule comprising: querying the object move counter to determine a number of times the used digital object has been moved; comparing the object move counter to the object move threshold; denying the request for transfer of the used digital object as impermissible when the object move counter of the used digital object exceeds the object move threshold; and authorizing the request for transfer of the used digital object to the second personalized data store when the object move counter of the used digital object is within the object move threshold.
On June 22, 2012, Apple filed a patent entitled ‘”Managing access to digital content items”. Its approach is different. Apple handles ownership data (license?) and transfers the ownership data between the users. Interesting Apple introduces the notion of track usage data that will determine the remuneration of the user.
1. A method comprising: storing, at a particular entity, first ownership data that authorizes a user to access a digital content item; storing, in association with the digital content item, track usage data that indicates how much the user used or could have used the digital content item; receiving, at the particular entity, from a device operated by the user, relinquish request data that indicates that the user wishes to relinquish authorized access to the digital content item; in response to receiving the relinquish request data, the particular entity identifying one or more conditions associated with the digital content item; based on the one or more conditions and the track usage data, determining whether to provide remuneration to the user; in response to determining to provide remuneration to the user, storing second ownership data that revokes authorization of the user to access the digital content item; and based on the second ownership data, the particular entity preventing the user from further accessing the digital content item; wherein the method is performed by one or more computing devices.
Interestingly, both approaches introduce a notion of obsolescence or loss of value to partly mimic physical objects. It attempts artificially to limit one of the fears of content owners. As a digital object copy remains pristine, it could be indefinitely resold without loss of “quality”, thus undermining the primary market (and thus loosing money for content owners). Physical objects are degrading with time. With these tricks, digital objects would also “degrade” with time.
Will these approaches be more acceptable for a judge? Will Apple and Amazon open such market place?