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Controversial Amazon to Start Selling "Used" MP3s and Other Software Downloads
Last July, we reported that the highest court in Europe, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that it is lawful for customers to resell software delivered in its purest form, as a download, within Europe. This is regardless of any Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) that it's been infected with, or none at all. Following this landmark ruling, it has since been only a matter of time before a marketplace for such used software appeared.
Now, Amazon is to open a marketplace for second hand, or used, software including MP3s - DRM-free music files that can be endlessly copied at will. Amazon have now filed US patent 8,364,595 for such a system that will support the reselling of used software, including MP3s. These are compressed DRM-free music files that can be endlessly copied at will. However, Amazon's cloud-based system will attempt to stop this, by ensuring that all copies of the files are deleted from the seller's account and crucially will run software on the user's PC to ensure that there are no copies left on it. Also, a resold file may potentially only be resold a set number of times as described in the patent's abstract:
An electronic marketplace for used digital objects is disclosed. 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.
Also, Amazon are the biggest, but not the first retailer to get into the used software market, since ReDigi has been doing just this since 2011. After downloading an app, customers can by a "used" song on ReDigi for as little as 49 cents that would sell for 99 cents on Apple's iTunes. However, since Amazon is number one, what they do here will make waves across the whole industry.
So, what's to stop a savvy seller from keeping a copy on an external hard disc drive that's disconnected from their PC when they sell their "used" MP3 file? Or what about a copy of that file that's stored on a portable music player?
The seller will therefore still have it, so the only way I can see this working is if Amazon's software nukes that file on sight whenever the external drive or music player is connected to the PC again. This is something which I'm sure will prove controversial, especially if it mis-identifies files, deleting the wrong ones. I wouldn't want some third party application snooping around my computer deleting stuff. It's a privacy violation if nothing else.
Interestingly, allowing resale of used downloaded software goes against Microsoft's purported plans for their next gen Xbox games console, which won't allow used games to be resold by restricting this with DRM. Valve's Steam cloud-based software delivery platform is another one which prevents users from selling their used software (mainly games at the moment). Origin is a similar service to Steam, run by Electronic Arts to deliver their games, which also restricts sale of used software. Therefore, if the used market catches on with other vendors, it will put considerable pressure on these three to open up their own second hand markets.
Note that Steam and Origin use cloud-based DRM to control access to software and that DRM is baked right into the software on the user's computer. Therefore, when the software has been sold, even if the files remain on the user's computer, they will be useless. Unless the files are hacked of course, but then none of the auto updating and integration features will work with the hacked software, so its value is limited, encouraging users to stay honest.
So, all in all, this is an excellent development against vested corporate interests who want to kill the used software market once and for all!
There's some more detail about this at New Scientist.