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Amazon Patents 'Maintaining Scarcity' of Goods 240

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the moldy-bits dept.
theodp writes "Back in Biblical times, creating abundance was considered innovative. That was then. Last Tuesday, GeekWire reports, the USPTO awarded Amazon.com a broad patent on reselling and lending 'used' digital goods for an invention that Amazon boasts can be used to 'maintain scarcity' of digital objects, including audio files, eBooks, movies, apps, and pretty much anything else."
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Amazon Patents 'Maintaining Scarcity' of Goods

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  • And of course ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:05AM (#42795607) Homepage

    Artificial scarcity is designed to keep prices up and screw consumers.

    Tell me again how this lovely free market reaches optimal solutions and we all pay less? Someone has just patented a way to make us pay more for no other reason that corporate profit seeking.

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by fatphil (181876)
      Yeah, but because it's patented, the companies who are now able to gouge us for more money will have to pass on that extra income onto that well-known humanitarian charity - Amazon; and I'm sure nobody objects to donating to such a good cause. They do so much good for the world - they're world leaders in patents, don't you know?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:15AM (#42795689)

      Wut? When does copyright, by definition a government issued monopoly, have anything to do with the free market?

    • by captainpanic (1173915) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:26AM (#42795755)

      But think of the Economy!
      All hail the Economy. Listen to your lobbyists. Listen to your advertisement. Buy, but don't complain. There is no other Economy than the one and only Economy. There is no alternative. All hail the Economy.

      LOL, people wonder why the crisis does not end. The answer is right there. Because more and more people are leeching off the few people who actually produce something tangible.

      • by fatphil (181876)
        You forgot:

        The number one enemy of progress is questions.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMQHVzSPTec for those that don't recognise the line.
    • by hawks5999 (588198) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:29AM (#42795767)
      Patents are a monopoly issued by government. They are the antithesis of the free market. This government intervention in the free market leads to ridiculous patents like this.

      Many patents are filed defensively since someone else could use the force of government to prevent Amazon from conducting free market business in the future by getting this patent.

      The patent, copyright and entire IP systems is not a construct of the free market and we could be so much further advanced without these government interventions.

      • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @10:05AM (#42796007)

        It's true that they are anti-free market. But no sociological construct can be pure. The patent system could work if the government or businesses had any interest in it working properly. But they don't. What we have no allows them to manipulate the market, drive out upstart companies, and drive up prices. Amazon takes more of the profit from digital books than real ones. Figure that one out for me.

      • by EdgePenguin (2646733) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @10:12AM (#42796073) Homepage

        False.

        The 'free market' is not a real entity, its a social construct, and it can only exist where property rights are defined and defended - by government force. ALL property, patents or land, is created in this way. Its called enclosure (or inclosure, as it was spelt when this first happened to land in England.

        What is going on here is entirely consisted with the 'free' market (quotes because I refuse to pass on the propagandistic notion that markets have anything to do with freedom) - it is in fact what has been going on since the very dawn of capitalism. You secure exclusive access to something by force (generally via a government, which markets cannot exist without) and then you sell it back to the people you have denied it to.

        • by hawks5999 (588198)
          Of course the free market is a social construct. No one claims it is an entity. But it doesn't require government force for the protection of property rights and God help us if government gets to define property rights. Individuals can defend their property rights without government force.

          I can easily lock my car to keep valuables inside it safe without the government's involvement. And the government is completely powerless to stop someone from smashing the window to get in and take my valuables.

          For the

          • You are a fool. OF COURSE the government defines property rights. If there is a dispute about who owns something, it goes through a court, rather than through a shootout. A world in which property rights are defined by individuals is a world where how much you have is a function of how much violence you are willing inflict on those around you. Mad Max basically.
      • I assume that the post you replied to is referring to the practice of colluding to maintain the artificial scarcity of some product, and not the patent itself. It's either that or assuming that the poster was completely drunk.
      • You are absolutely right, of course, but capitalism and the free market have proven time and again that they cannot survive without some government intervention. The patent system was created with another, more noble, intent: to encourage innovation by rewarding an inventor a small and exclusive window to market something new and ingenious. Like many other well-intended pieces of legislation (disability pay, welfare, and lawsuits, for instance), the number of abusers of the system has grown disproportiona
    • Re:And of course ... (Score:4, Informative)

      by holiggan (522846) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:31AM (#42795775)

      You have a choice: do your business somewhere else. That's part of the "free market" you talk about. The freedom to do business with whoever you choose. Nobody is forcing you to buy with Amazon. Just "vote with your wallet". You are part of the free market too.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by fredprado (2569351)
        Not if they have exclusive rights over what you need. Then they can pretty much do whatever they want, because nobody else can compete with him. That is not even remotely a free market.
        • by Lisias (447563)

          If the "Free Market" screws you, go for the Free and screw the Market.

          This is exactly what bittorrents and other "generics" source of intelectual goods provides to you. Your wallet is not the only way you can use to vote.

          • I generally agree with you, but there is no dichotomy between doing that and fighting for fair laws. Both things can be done at the same time.
      • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:41AM (#42795845)

        Just "vote with your wallet".

        Sounds like rich people get more of a vote than poor people.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As someone who sells software online from home as a part-time business, I use artificial scarcity (a product registration keying system) to motivate consumers to pay. The best way for them to get screwed would be for me to remove all incentives for them to pay, which would remove all incentives for me to be in business at all. Then, they'd get nothing - for free.

      Imagine a world in which you had to pay for new cars but you couldn't resell the car after you used it. At that point, you'd really feel screwed

    • by Morgaine (4316) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:49AM (#42795891)

      Terminator was far too optimistic in portraying our future as the War Against the Machines, a nice and clean them-versus-us scenario in which the machines would be non-human. The enemy would be easy to identify.

      The reality is likely to be rather more ugly and messy. It'll be a War Against the Corporations, and unfortunately they are us. It will be man against man, those who care about their fellow humans versus those who perceive their only duty is to be a cog in their corporate machine, and society be damned.

      It's all a bit bleak, and every day seems to carry us closer to that nightmare instead of towards a post-scarcity civilized future.

      Thank you Amazon. Not.

    • Tell me again how this lovely free market reaches optimal solutions and we all pay less? Someone has just patented a way to make us pay more for no other reason that corporate profit seeking.

      I take it noone ever explained to you that "patents" and "free markets" are NOT that same thing?

      HINT: who issues patents? (answer: government)

      For all the hypothetical benefit of patents, they are a government interference in free markets.

      While it is arguable that some government interference in free markets is nec

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by gstoddart (321705)

        I take it noone ever explained to you that "patents" and "free markets" are NOT that same thing?

        On the contrary ... I've read Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, and all the usual stuff and drank the Kool Aid for most of a decade ... and I've come to decide it's a bad fiction. I know a lot about what makes a free market, I just don't think it works or is something we'd want.

        For all the hypothetical benefit of patents, they are a government interference in free markets.

        While it is arguable that some government interferen

    • Your first mistake was believing we lived in a free market.

    • Re:And of course ... (Score:4, Informative)

      by jellomizer (103300) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @10:18AM (#42796123)

      The problem with digital media is too cheap to produce. So the idea of supply in essence goes to infinity (or at least such a high number that it doesn't matter anymore) So using good old Supply and Demand the price of all digital media goes down to 0, no matter what the demand is, or the elasticity of supply and demand.

      Free stuff that is good right? Well perhaps in the short term, but in the long term it creates the problem that it isn't free to create the information. It takes time and talent for writer to write a story good enough to be well liked and published. Software takes man hours of people with skill sets. Music takes talented people who need to dedicate good portions of their life for to their art...

      My career is in writing software, I get paid to offer my services to an organization. The organization is willing to pay for my services as long as it deans my cost to be equal or less then the value I provide them. If I am producing stuff of little or no value due to a saturated market where anything I write already has a free version of it, and what ever I write must be offered for free too, means my value is 0, thus my bargaining costs will be 0 too (AKA I will not get paid for my work, or have no work).

      If out of work, I will need to change my profession to a skill that has a lower supply and a higher demand. That means giving up skills that I am good at and go to something else. Now enough people do this we loose quality digital media and we get "Fan Fiction" quality stuff where if we are lucky we may get a good product every once in a while, but most of it will be complete garbage, or just rehashing what already exists with little innovation or new ideas.

      Now here comes the Alternative Open Source business models and touting the profit of such companies such as Red Hat and IBM.... Sure Consulting services, and special distribution and configuration and training services are still in effect for some software. But that really works when you have something of a decent complexity. Now a lot of innovative stuff is too easy to use to be Consulting on. RMS who made money selling Tapes of Emacs. Well those tapes cost money to buy, and he had limited resources to create such tapes and mail them out, allowing supply and demand, as they didn't have the internet widely available at a fast enough speed, making media distribution obsolete.

      There is greed, and there is being valuable and compensated for your value. If amazon flooded the market, there will be less authors willing to make digital media and will go back to printed, just because they can make more money off of printed books, even if they sell less. As with all things in life there is a balance, Greed is the case where the balance is broken. But most people who are not greedy do want more out of their lives.

      • by alexgieg (948359)

        Now enough people do this we loose quality digital media and we get "Fan Fiction" quality stuff where if we are lucky we may get a good product every once in a while, but most of it will be complete garbage, or just rehashing what already exists with little innovation or new ideas.

        While this might have been true in the past, in the last few years the amount of high quality fan fiction has increased exponentially. Fan fiction authors aren't accountable to market research or thematically restricted to whatever will attract the most paying customers, and thus can do the craziest stuff in their work. It's come to a point where I find "normal" fiction predictable, repetitive and mostly boring, while fan fiction is consistently creative.

        But I have to concede a point to your argument in tha

    • Where there exists copyright legislation and legislation that outlaws DRM circumvention, there is no "free market".
    • Take a drive to your local walmart and see how prices are lower.

      But if you'd like a lesson.... here we go.
      The free market doesn't guarantee that every single business will sell for the lowest price.

      What it does is allow for competition so when prices get too high or a new innovation comes along, someone is FREE to setup a new company.

      You know... like how Google was FREE to compete with Microsoft even though Microsoft was in a virtual monopoly position on the desktop.

      But it is rather interesting to note how

  • For real? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Quakeulf (2650167) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:16AM (#42795691)
    I... I don't even want to know anymore.
  • by Stu101 (1031686) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:19AM (#42795705) Homepage

    I have an Amazon account and a Nexus with Kindle reader. They go together good. I buy the odd book here or there, between a few books of varying prices. A fair exchange for a fair price. This kind of stuff really annoys me though. It is as if they wanted to annoy people to go the root of firing up a browser and typing "latest best seller torrent" and side loading it.

    I admit I have sideloaded a lot of stuff, but mainly stuff that is useful, but in PDF (i.e. tech docs).

    Ultimately, a few people will put up with it, but when you are part of a group of "digitally intelligent" people, they will just rip and share their stuff, either through online or large removable media.

    • I have an Amazon account and a Nexus with Kindle reader.

      But when you have finished reading your book(s), can you freely give them to a friend ? I can do that with the paper books that I have, but electronic ones ?

      • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @10:01AM (#42795961)

        But when you have finished reading your book(s), can you freely give them to a friend ? I can do that with the paper books that I have, but electronic ones ?

        I use an old Sony eReader. It supports ePub format, with or without DRM.

        And I also have Calibre, which can remove DRM for legally acquired eBooks.

        So, yes, I can give my ebooks freely to friends.

      • I have a Kindle Touch and have bought a few books from Amazon. Once downloaded I copy them to my PC and strip the DRM out of it with some freeware apps, then convert them to ePub. That way, if Amazon ever decide that I'm no longer eligible to give them my money (as they have with others) I lose nothing, and can use them on any eReader in the future. I'm happy to root my phone, I can do it with the Kindle if need be.

        To answer your question, thought, yes you mostly can. You can lend your purchased books to o
    • I have a Kindle and a Nook. The Kindle often has typos and formatting errors. Combine that with some of this evil Amazon stuff and it's obvious why my Nook is used daily and my Kindle gathers dust.

  • Value beyond money (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:20AM (#42795721)

    The phrase “maintain scarcity” has the same feel as "monatize" to me - it indicates a world view where commerce is the be all and end all of existance.

    "Maintaining scarcity" is in essence the exact reason our copyright laws on this planet are so messed up - the notion that something that is no longer commercially viable might still be of historical or cultural interest is heresy. In fact, availability of "assets" without requiring payment from users of those assets is an active attack on capitalism and our way of life, according to some people.

    I know what kind of world I want to live in, and it isn't one where the goal is to "monatize" art, culture, history and literature to line our pockets. Maybe, just maybe, those things have a value that transends price tags - maybe intellectual stimulation, artistic enjoyment, and knowledge have their own intrinsic worth that doesn't rest soly on whether people have paid to acquire them.

    Although I think this is a sleezy smelling move on Amazon's part, it's more properly seen as a reflection of our broader culture. What kind of world do we want to live in?

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:23AM (#42795737) Homepage

    science and useful arts.

    USPTO, please read the Goddamn Constitution.

    • science and useful arts.

      USPTO, please read the Goddamn Constitution.

      ... by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries. Sounds like they're doing exactly what the Goddamn Constitution says.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        ... by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries. Sounds like they're doing exactly what the Goddamn Constitution says.

        What, by creating artificial scarcity to jack up consumer prices? The Constitution was designed to support price-gouging?

        I have no problem with protecting the work of people, and if you invent something new you should be able to benefit from it without someone just ripping it off.

        But a patent to manipulate the eco

        • ... by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries. Sounds like they're doing exactly what the Goddamn Constitution says.

          What, by creating artificial scarcity to jack up consumer prices? The Constitution was designed to support price-gouging?

          Uh, yeah? It says it right there. What do you think "exclusive rights" are used for except excluding others and/or selling licenses?

          I have no problem with protecting the work of people, and if you invent something new you should be able to benefit from it without someone just ripping it off.

          But a patent to manipulate the economy to make sure that prices stay high solely to protect corporate profits? How does society benefit from that.

          Ah, so you want the USPTO to qualitatively classify each patent as being "good for society"? So, for example, if a teetotaler is in charge of the office, no patents on new distillery technology. Or if a luddite is in charge, no patents on anything related to computers. Or if it's one of those anti-gun, anti-video game folks, then no patents on anything related to firearms or ga

  • by fleeped (1945926) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:30AM (#42795773)
    For my digital goods, I can find other ... marketplaces. Without DRM, reselling issues, artificial 'used' tags and more neverending crap. Guess what, they are cheaper too.
    • by TheSpoom (715771)

      For tech books, I have been buying a lot from O'Reilly [oreilly.com] recently; they have fully DRM-free ebooks and half off sales about every month or so. It takes a little more time to get them to my Kindle (you have to email them to a special Kindle address or sideload them directly) but it's worth it.

  • by pla (258480) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:32AM (#42795783) Journal
    Psst - Dear merchants and content providers...

    You will sell countless millions of your products at under a buck each. At >$10 each, a significant number of people will pirate it. And if you don't even offer it for sale (or play tricks to have a limited number of copies available), you guarantee everyone who wants it will just pirate it.

    Don't like it? Starve in the gutter. We don't care. Give us what we want or vanish, simple as that.
  • ...Apple's been maintaining a false scarcity of their products for who knows how many years.
    I'm surprised they didn't already have this patented.
  • by markdj (691222) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:38AM (#42795823)
    This has to do more with the fact that physical objects wear out and digital objects don't. Publishers have complained that when a library lends a physical book, it can only do so for a limited number of times before it has to buy another copy because the first wore out. When libraries lend digital objects, they never have to buy another again. So publishers want a limit to the number of times that a digital object can be lent before requiring a repurchase. The same goes for CDs/DVDs.
    • It has to do with enclosure and rent seeking.

      1. Take something that is abundant and/or common, and fence it off so people can't get to it.

      2. Sell access back to it to the people you closed off from it.

      3. Profit

      This is the very method by which capitalism was founded - and it continues to this day.

    • by MtHuurne (602934)

      People still need time to read a book (or listen to music), which limits the number of people that will read the book even if the ownership can be transferred indefinitely. However, we have effectively perpetual copyright at the moment and it just wouldn't be fair to the starving writers' grand-grand-grandchildren if the market for the book would eventually dry up because there are a sufficient number of copies sold such that every person who wants to read it can get a second hand copy.

  • Artificial scarcity is not new and the patent office is beyond broken IMO.
  • ...by getting exclusive rights to create artificial scarcity. Like if iTunes or Google Play tries to implement it Amazon will sue the shit out of them?

    Sounds great to me!

  • of digital objects, including audio files, eBooks, movies, apps, and pretty much anything else.

    How bout MMORPG gold / credits / ISK / character skins / avatar bling / WTF?

    Don't online games already have this all patented 89 billion ways already? And if not isn't this entire industry sector a pretty obvious prior art?

  • Once George Carlin commented that to him, "bipartisan" meant "larger than usual deception". A keyword for me is "broad" just before "patent". I have trouble thinking of any invention worthy of that since, say, the transistor.
  • by ZahrGnosis (66741) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @10:42AM (#42796339) Homepage

    The patent office needs to adopt a simple fact: doing something digitally that has been done physically before (like lending purchased objects just like a used book and music store, or having a digital "shopping cart" like, you know, a shopping cart) is "obvious". Someone will eventually get around to implementing it, so it is not novel and should not be patentable. At best maybe the site should get design patent coverage, or some very specific encryption algorithms should be protected in some way if in fact they are proprietary, but the idea of patenting an entire store concept should be ridiculous.

  • In the late 90s, Circuit City tried to push an "innovative" new kind of DVD player that played regular DVDs and special DIVX [wikipedia.org] (Digital Video Express) discs (more discussion of the format here [dvdjournal.com]), that were basically DVDs you bought for $4 that could only be watched for 48 hours after the initial viewing. After that, you would have to pay for the privilege of additional viewings. The player had a modem and would phone home to the service for authorization to allow you to watch the disc you bought.

    Yes, it was
  • Since DVDs and CDs are digital goods and you have been able to lend, rent and purchased used ones for years, how can this now be patented? The only difference is that this covers digital goods that aren't on physical media, but then software, another digital good, has been distributed electronically for decades if you include mainframes. There was even a big case with Revelon, where a developer "removed" software from their mainframe because they failed to pay -- all done digitally. So, can somebody expla

  • Disney's "vault" for movies (particularly VHS) in the 80's/90's. Two years, then off the market for 10.

    • I even remember a specific commercial for lion king on another video that mentioned "Hurry, before it goes back in the vault".

  • How is this not just meaning no redundancy for the "same" digital object. Rather than host 1000 copies of the same file, Amazon minimizes redundancy and every cloud user who hosts the same file has access to the same block(s) of data.

  • Single merchandiser (Amazon) == market control. Don't sell digital goods on Amazon and don't buy or make DRM. Amazon Google and Apple lose their power to unilaterally make up law and Reality when we stop giving them that power.

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