Want to sell that movie you bought on iTunes but never watch? You may be able to one day if a new Apple patent filing ever comes to life.
Published today by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and filed last June, an Apple patent application named "Managing Access To Digital Content Items" conjures up a system for legally selling or loaning iTunes items to another person.
The method involves transferring digital access rights from the original owner to someone else. Once those rights are transferred, the new owner would gain access to the content while the original owner would lose them.
As the original seller of the item, Apple would keep track of who currently has the rights to it and get a cut of the action. The actual publisher or developer might also share in the proceeds, as described in the patent:
After the change in access rights, only the transferee is allowed access to the digital content item. As part of the change in access rights, the transferee may pay to obtain access to the digital content item. A portion of the proceeds of the "resale" may be paid to the creator or publisher of the digital content item and/or the entity that originally sold the digital content item to the original owner.
The system could also allow more than one person to buy a "copy" of the digital item. Content owned by one user could be provided to multiple people, so the original owner and the new owners all have access to it at the same time. Apple would restrict the number of times that an item could be copied. For example, a movie may be copied just once, while an e-book could be copied twice.
Limitations would also likely be placed on how often an item could be sold and its selling price. The buyer of an app may have to wait a year before transferring the rights to another person. Someone who purchases a digital film might have to set a minimum price of $10 for the first six months. After six months, the minimum price would drop to $5.
Amazon was recently granted a patent exploring the same concept of an electronic flea market for digital goods. In Amazon's patent, you would house your music, videos, apps, and e-books online. One you got tired of an item, you could transfer it to someone else's storage space.
The seller would receive a credit for the item, while the buyer would be debited a certain amount. Like Apple, Amazon would take a cut of the proceeds for facilitating the transaction.
As more people buy movies, music, and books digitally instead of physically, an online marketplace for selling and swapping those items seems like a logical next step.