Sharing Digital Media (Legally)


As ZNF readers are well aware, one of the biggest challenges we face with digital media (books, music, video) is in sharing it. Legally.  Over at Live Digitally, Jeremy Toeman details one possible scenario for an Amazon Kindle used book store – allowing folks to resell books back to Amazon for a store credit. And in turn, Amazon offering these ‘books’ at a lower cost than ‘new’ ones.

Despite his calculations, I’m not sold. Traditional supply, demand, production, and distribution rules don’t transfer cleanly from the analog world to a wired marketplace hawking digital goods. Other than an artificially lower resale value, what’s the difference between a ‘used’ ebook and a ‘new’ one?

A better solution to increase adoption and loyalty while staving off piracy is the integration of a gifting option. After purchasing most Season 1 episodes of Mad Men and Burn Notice digitally, I’d have liked to give these titles to my mom (~1,000 miles away). Instead, I ended up buying her the DVDs. Which I’m sure the studios love. But how about thinking bigger picture?

What if each digital download/license could be transferred (not copied) just once – what I believe to be a reasonable compromise between producers and consumers. And let’s give incentivize the retailers by limiting transfers to their own ecosystem. So in my case, Apple would get a new iTunes member in my mom and probably an Apple TV purchase – as I don’t see her watching video for any length of time at the computer. Building upon one of Jeremy’s ideas, perhaps retailers could also facilitate bartering (with a per exchange fee) between strangers. Which could also be a big win for music discovery, leading to additional digital purchases.

Over the years, I’ve had many music licensing, DRM, etc talks with ZNF contributor Dale Dietrich. He (had) envisioned a digital media “utopia” where every piece of content is registered with a unique serial number via an online licensing clearinghouse – and could be freely traded, sold, or loaned. In reality and unfortunately, I doubt any of our scenarios will come to pass. They’re too consumer friendly. And perhaps to complex. Guess we’ll continue to settle for low-def Hulu streaming with commercial interruption.

4 thoughts on “Sharing Digital Media (Legally)”

  1. There is no meeting Dinosaur Media in the middle, they’ll happily go extinct clutching their 1950s business model. So to propose that we can all get in a circle for a group hung, and they will some how abandon their contempt for us is naive.

    I am adamant that if we the Consumers, as a collective, shine a light on the corruption and collusion that has put us in this mess, we can cause change.

    Donate to the EFF and read about their latest courtroom battles.

    Call your Congressman and demand that Net Neutrality be brought back up for a vote.

    Sign the petition to radically reform the patent and copyright laws.

    Reach out to your favorite author, musician, SAG writer through whatever social media and start a conversation about them distributing their work directly to you ( mention that Trent Reznor makes 10x more money releasing direct to the public than he ever did with a record company artificiality in the middle ).

  2. Public libraries already are dealing with e-books and Audiobook downloading so we shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

  3. No question a used Kindle book marketplace would be disastrous to Amazon’s bottom line. Given that a “used” Kindle book is identical to a “new” Kindle book, why would I ever pay $9.99 for a copy when some speed reader is going to finish it in a couple of days and sell it back.

    Heck, he’s probably going to stick it on his iPhone and his Kindle (since you can have any purchased book on up to 5 Kindles and seemingly unlimited iPhones), sell it back immediately, and then turn wireless off on his Kindle so it won’t remove itself till he’s done.

  4. The whole idea of buying a book then selling it back to be sold as “used” makes little sense to me. There is nothing really of value except the content–no physical object like with a book, CD, or DVD. It’s always going to be a new, perfect copy. It’s never used.

    Why not just rent the books for a fee if you don’t plan on keeping them? No need to return them. They just stop working when you’re done paying the rental fee or after a set period of time.

    I like the idea of gifting items that were purchased. Or having a digital aftermarketplace of pre-owned digital assets. Kind of like a used CD store. Of course, content owners probably wouldn’t go for this.

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