Market for secondhand digital books, music in the works

New York Times News Service /

Published Mar 8, 2013 at 04:00AM

The paperback of “Fifty Shades of Grey” is exactly like the digital version except for this: If you hate the paperback, you can give it away or resell it. If you hate the e-book, you’re stuck with it.

The retailer’s button might say “buy now,” but you are in effect only renting an e-book — or an iTunes song — and your rights are severely limited.

But that may be changing.

In late January, Amazon received a patent to set up an exchange for all sorts of digital material. And on Thursday, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published Apple’s application for its own patent for a digital marketplace. Apple’s application outlines a system for allowing users to sell or give e-books, music, movies and software to each other by transferring files rather than reproducing them. Such a system would permit only one user to have a copy at any one time.

While they may be good for consumers, the patent filings have sent a shudder through publishers and media companies — not to mention authors. Those who produce content fear they will see their work devalued, just as they did when Amazon began selling secondhand books.