Second Hand Ebooks To Sell? Amazon Have That In Hand

We live in a truly strange world.  Amazon have just managed to patent the idea of selling second hand digital files when we no longer wish to keep them.  Fair enough to be able to sell our unwanted digital files, sure, but to be able to patent that idea?  Come on now, who are they kidding?


I always thought that the idea of patents was to protect new and original ways of doing things, which this assuredly is not.  The only new thing in this patent as far as I can see (I have actually read the entire document) is to establish a system to ensure that the digital file in question is removed from the original owner’s computer and that such files may only be sold on a certain number of times (to protect copyright owners I assume).  But it doesn’t actually specify how these two aims will be achieved, but merely discusses the concept.

Amazon is not even the first company to come up with this idea, but as ever, they are the first to formalise it with a patent….    ReDigi have been doing this for some time already with a fair degree of success.   However, in order to ensure that you don’t keep a copy of the second hand file you have sold, with ReDigi you have to install a small bit of software on your computer, that removes any files you sell.. A dodgy idea it seems to me, and not one that I would allow within a million miles of any computer of mine.  And anyhow, how can any of these systems ensure that you don’t simply burn your files to CD before selling them?

I like the idea of being able to sell old music, video or ebook files when I no longer want them, much as I might sell old DVDs or paper books, but I can see a lot of technical problems with any serious attempt to sell second hand digital files and I am pretty certain that the companies who produce the music, video or ebook files that this is all about will fight tooth and nail to stop Amazon and any other outfits from selling their precious digital files as if they were the same as paper books.

Share with us:

What is your take on the idea of selling unwanted digital files via outfits such as Amazon?   I would be really interested to hear your thoughts on this one.

2 thoughts on “Second Hand Ebooks To Sell? Amazon Have That In Hand

  1. Robert Bolick

    In “Used e-book, slightly foxed,” Nicholas Carr writes about this. Matthew Kirschenbaum might dispute Carr’s view that there is no difference between the new and used ebook however. In his book “Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination,” he explores the nano-differences between masters and their digital copies, much as textual bibliographers have delved into the meaningful and revealing differences among print editions and even copies of the same print edition.

    And with the recent publication of a W3C specification for Open Annotation of digital text, what might be inside that used ebook? As Baratunde Thurston, author of “How to Be Black” and founder of Cultivated Wit, writes:

    “What if you could download books that had been pre-annotated? I would pay extra to read Freakonomics with commentary by Paul Krugman,The New Jim Crow with notes from editors at The Nation, or the Bible annotated by the creators of South Park. A book could always inspire new layers of meaning, but now it can host that inspiration and a slew of associated conversations.”

    Thurston’s proposition though is more akin to the digital equivalent of the Norton critical editions or Robert Strassler’s oversized, beautifully enriched Landmark editions of Thucydides, Herodotus and Xenophon. Still, a pre-loved ebook is a different virtual matter and might be desirable to some hapless, non-haptic readers. No doubt, resellers of used ebooks will want to assure their customers that their digital goods are free of lesser annotators’ bytes of marginalia and the latest viruses and Trojan horses favored by vandals and hacksters. How will eBay cope, assuming it can come to terms with Amazon’s patent claim?

    But to bring Thurston’s proposition and Open Annotation together suggests another market: the collectible ebook. Can there be such a thing as a rare ebook? Which libraries will be bidding for Clay Shirky’s ebook collection after he has shuffled off his digital coil?

    The implications for DRM and copyright are delicious. Recall the hoax that Bruce Willis was considering legal action against Apple over his desire to leave his digital music collection to his daughters? If his collection’s metadata contained extensive annotations providing insight into the music or, more likely, the celebrity himself, why should iTunes’ Terms and Conditions override the family’s claim to the Die Hard star’s intellectual property that they could share (or not) with future celebrity biographers?

    This year looks set to be one of important bookmarks for the evolution of the book: secondary markets for ebooks, Open Annotation, social reading and still more devices and applications for reading. Links available at

    1. Tony Post author

      The above “comment” is in fact an entire post from another blog about books. Not something one is supposed to do, and would normally cause me to delete it at once. But as he has a number of interesting points to make about second hand ebooks, I have decided to leave it, and even go so far as to give you a link to his blog. Here it is:-


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