Apple has filed a patent application for technology that could let iTunes customers sell or even loan out their unwanted ebooks, songs, movies and app to other people.
The patent application, entitled "Managing access to digital content items", was filed last year but has only now been published by the US Patent & Trademark Office.
The technology would involve Apple (or, to be precise, "the entity that sold the digital content item") keeping a register of who owns what content, and using that register to ensure that only the current owner can open the content item. So you could sell your Deltra Goodrem songs to your niece, she would get the right to play them and you would lose the right.
Now, wouldn't that be nice? No longer would you be stuck with content you no longer want. No longer would you be stuck to a particular technology platform, just because you had invested in content that could only be used on that platform. You could just sell all your content, and move on to the latest thing.
Not that you'd ever recoup all your outlay, According to the patent application, a portion of the proceeds from the re-sale of the content "may" be paid to Apple, or it may be paid to the creator of the content, or (most probably) both.
Should it ever be implemented, the technology would do nothing more than facilitate rights that consumers already have in the real world. The doctrine of "first sale" in copyright law generally limits the monopoly granted by a copyright to (you guessed it) the first sale of the copyrighted item. After that first sale, it's a bit of a free for all: consumers are generally free to re-sell or loan out their copyrighted items as they see fit. Hence second-hand bookstores. Hence second-hand CD and DVD stores.
Sadly, that hasn't been the case in the digital world, where copyright holders and their distributors have used Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology, combined with a controversial law making it illegal to bypass DRM technology, to undermine the first sale doctrine. It was a big bone of contention when DRM first came in a decade ago, but you don't hear about it so much nowadays, possibly because digital content is generally so cheap, people don't mind losing the right to re-sell it.
Still, it would be nice for Apple to go ahead with the plan, and give some rights back to the people, even if the man still gets a slice of the action, and even if Apple only does it to stop Spotify and Netflix taking over the world. I mean, who wants to buy the odd content item anyway, when you can just subscribe to a service and have it all?
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