By: Madeline Rose
A little over ten years ago authors and publishers were outraged when electronic media giant Amazon began selling books secondhand on their website. The Authors Guild tried to get authors to take Amazon links off their websites and link to independent sites. Publishers tried to negotiate a waiting time from when books were first published to when they could be sold secondhand, but it was to no avail. For all their effort, what Amazon was doing was entirely legal. For years, the availability of used books for mere pennies has undercut profits from those sold new, and the creative force is not seeing any profit for those secondhand sales. A new idea is circulating around the Internet world that may exacerbate the problem for writers, but revolutionize the market for consumers.
In late January, Amazon received a patent to set up an exchange for digital media on their site. Anything from music to ebooks could be swapped from customer to customer at incredibly reduced prices under the patent’s premise. Amazon’s plan changes the idea of ownership of digital material, because at present while consumers “buy books,” they are incapable of selling them, even giving them away to others. On March 7, technology giant Apple published a similar patent. Apple’s patent went into explicit detail on the personal databases where media could be stored by consumers, and sales would delete the good from one database and appear in that of the purchaser, ensuring that the system would not make illegal copies of work.
The giants have not commented on when, or even if such marketplaces will be established. An independent startup company is already trying to make the dream a reality. ReDigi is a small company that allows customers to sell used iTunes songs. The company very obviously tried to make concessions to the music producers by enforcing a policy that profits from secondhand songs being used toward new music purchases. That was not enough as the music industry is pursuing the company with all their might. The two sides are currently facing off in federal court over copyright infringement. The judge is expected to rule on the merits of the case soon. Everyone in the media world is watching on the edge of their seats.
Those in favor of digital resale argue that such a marketplace would not really hurt creators. The heightened accessibility and lowered prices allow consumers to try different kinds of books and music, such that they might not otherwise, and inspire them to buy more. However, many media companies see more of a decline in profit rather than an evening out. They argue that such a free market will profit the consumer until there are not any more writers. The electronic market will likely find stability in the middle, but it is never clear just how long that will take.