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Ninc Newsletter

March 2013   •  Vol. 24, No. 3   •  Download pdf version

Amazon Patents ‘Used
Digital Objects.’ Discuss.


Amazon’s newly awarded patent for “used digital objects” made headlines and sparked debate and speculation about the impact on writers and publishers. Publishers Weekly reported February 7 that Amazon was “poised to sell used e-books” thanks to a U.S. patent granted to Amazon Technologies of Reno, Nevada.

According to the patent abstract, published on the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office website, the patent was filed in 2009 and granted January 29. It covers “digital objects including e-books, audio, video, computer applications, etc., purchased from an original vendor by a user which are stored in a user’s personalized data store.”

In short, here’s how the process would work, according to the abstract. “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.” 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.”

However, the patent grant does not mean that Amazon will start selling “used” digital content or that these sales would be legal, according to George H. Pike, director of the Barco Law Library and assistant professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. In his column for Information Today ( on February 14, Pike said that it is still “uncertain if and how the First Sale Doctrine applies to digital content. Since the First Sale Doctrine requires ownership, most courts have held that the doctrine does not apply to content that is licensed.” He also noted that language in the patent “would seem

Table of Contents

President’s Voice: A Little of This, A Little of That
NINC 2013 Conference: The Author’s World
Eye on Industry: Trendspotting for Fun and Profit
Brainstorming at the Spa in Matera, Italy
Getting It Write at the WPA
Writing Is Taxing: What’s New for 2013
Not Your Usual Writing Advice: Reaching for the Stars
Sales Tax Fairness in 2013?
The Mad Scribbler: Grab a Tiger by Its Long Tail

to suggest that the system may only allow the transfer of content when the copyright owner gives permission through the use of access rights, or possibly when the copyright owner does not forbid transfer through its DRM. The former would be unquestionably legal under copyright law; however, the latter would be less certain.”

Jenn Webb’s February 8 article on pointed out another prominent court case with ramifications that might extend to the resale of digital goods in the future. Kirtsaeng d/b/a Bluechristine99 v. John Wiley & Sons Inc., currently being considered by          Continued on page 5   

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