Does Apple's 'used content' patent spell disaster for the marketplace?

Bruce Willis might be smiling but digital retailers certainly aren't

iTunes on iPad

Apple has filed a patent for a system allowing people to resell or loan their digital content.

The newly-revealed applications, lodged in 2011 and 2012, mean it could be possible for music, eBooks, films and games to be passed on to friends and loved ones without them having to buy their own copy.

A similar patent was granted to Amazon back in January, though it restricts transactions to Amazon's central marketplace. But Apple is clearly looking at something more open, as well as a cloud-based system that could mean digital products don't even need to be on a device to be gifted.

The patent does, however, outline certain limitations, such as how long a user must have the content before selling it on. Apple may, therefore, have control of the situation for a while, but when others jump on the bandwagon and decide such restrictions aren't necessary, it could mean trouble.

Digital dilemma

Currently, purchasing content from the iTunes store doesn't give you complete ownership of the file. Instead, "owners" are given rights to access the content via the device of their choice.

But while there are issues with that in itself, a system like the patent outlines could certainly cause problems if digital retailers have to pay the price of fewer sales - and as Apple is a retailer itself, could it just be snapping up the patent to stop others from allowing people to share their stuff?

Music-streaming company 7digital told TechRadar: "Apple or Amazon might have the clout to establish a model with content owners, but their history with closed formats and systems means it might not be the best, open service for consumers"

It also added: "The main barrier for such services would likely be legal implications and reaching agreements with content owners. For music alone there are multiple ways to acquire digital music; downloads, streaming, subscription services, ripping from CDs."

Last year, we heard that Bruce Willis lashed out at Apple for not letting users pass their digital music collection on when they die. The story was exposed as a hoax, though it did get people talking about digital rights. Now it seems that Apple might have been listening all along.

There's no saying whether Apple will go ahead and see its patent materialised, but it's certainly a sign of the way things are likely to head. The question is: Will it be a problem when the inevitable happens?

Via AppleInsider