When you purchase an eBook, you’re not buying it at all. Instead, you are purchasing the license to the eBook. The copyright law surrounding licensing is ambiguous. Some licensing terms are strict while others are not; it’s completely up to the license creator. The publisher still controls your purchase when you spend money on a licensed eBook. You buy a print book at a store or online. You may then resell that book through whatever means you like, whether online, at a book fair, or to a friend or neighbor. Or you can donate it to a library book sale. eBook licensing does not give the reader that right; the publisher has the ability to remove the book from your device.

All of this could change in a few years, thanks to Amazon. A new arrangement would allow readers to resell their eBooks through Amazon for a credit to their account or monetary reward. The patent states that publishers and authors can decide if they will allow their eBooks to be resold. The new market would also permit eBook lending from one user to another. In the case the person who was lent the eBook decides to buy it for him or herself, the original owner would receive some of the profit from the sale, receiving a monetary reward or credit in their account.

A major issue with the resale of digital works is the removal of eBooks from personal devices. How can a company be sure the eBook is removed from someone’s possession? eBooks could be copied to external hard drives or external devices that can’t be reached unless plugged in. People may be concerned about their personal security. The company could possibly need to scan the entirety of their device to make sure there were not copies of the eBook kept elsewhere. The degree of monitoring the new eBook market would be costly and not feasible for a small company.

Is Amazon being completely secretive about the new eBook resale market? No, because it has to apply for a patent through legal and public avenues. Other than the minimum public exposure through a patent claim, Amazon has not campaigned to promote the new service. Naturally, Amazon would not want to promote an eBook resale market that doesn’t exist yet, but it’s odd there isn’t more discussion surrounding this new market. It could transform the publishing industry.

Copyright law concerning digital products is not clear enough for a new market to be created. The difference between purchasing and licensing is ambiguous, and digital copyright is a new frontier. True that the legality behind digital copyright is muddled, but there are also economic factors that pose a problem in the new eBook market. In the used book market, the price of a book decreases with the degrading condition of the book. eBooks don’t degrade. They’re always in perfect condition.

Why would anyone buy a new eBook when they could get the same product for less money? New eBook prices would have to drop to compete with the used eBook market, and over time, eBook prices would drop to only a few cents. Buying eBooks for only a few cents may seem great, but authors and publishers would not agree. Authors would probably pull their digital books from the market, leaving behind a nonexistent eBook market. The only way to regulate the market would be to set price controls on eBooks.

No need to worry too much about the market immediately. It will be a few years before the market can even be created. There are already disputes over digital copyright for ReDigi, a site for reselling music. There’s great potential in the resale market for eBooks, but it’s going to take coordination between producers and consumers within clear digital copyright law to establish a healthy eBook resale market.