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Amazon Patents 'Maintaining Scarcity' of Goods 240

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.

  • 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?

  • 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 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 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 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:34AM (#42795789)

    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 fredprado ( 2569351 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:40AM (#42795835)
    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 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 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.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @11:05AM (#42796607)

    Any form of private property is a government enforced monopoly

    Owning a physical object is not a monopoly. That's a natural property of the physical world around us.

  • by fredprado ( 2569351 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:49PM (#42798925)
    Correction: they don't have exclusive rights over anything you think you may need. You obviously have absolutely no clue about the volume of Amazon IP and even less idea about the needs of others and likely not even of yours as well.
  • by rgbatduke ( 1231380 ) <.rgb. .at. .phy.duke.edu.> on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:54PM (#42799009) Homepage

    I thought that the government was, by definition, the group who has the biggest gun, for as long as that state lasts. So there is no in between.

    Life in the state of nature is ugly, nasty, brutish and short, and we all live in a state of nature at all times. All aspects of the social contract are our attempt to collectively minimize our risks and maximize our advantages and benefits, generally by ganging up on would-be bullies or out-group folks. Historically, this has been a lot easier to accomplish with memetic support structures like the illusion of human rights, religious duties and obligations, the fear of a supernatural deity with the biggest gun that one could ever conceive of (but one that is only used after you are dead), and government bureaucracy. Traditions, too.

    In the end, patent rights and copy rights are what "we" say they are, collectively, and can enforce by the direct threat of and delivery of violence on members of the herd that disagree. "We" generally establish these illusory rights according to some mushy but reasonable principles such as rewarding the inventor and/or author (so that they will continue to produce inventions and stories and so on -- it is in our own self-interest to keep them motivated). However, a much smaller set of "we" also benefit tremendously from the delivery systems for the inventions, books, music, art and so on created by the talented few but enjoyed by the greedy many. Those delivery systems have long since been co-opted as the true basis for patent and copyright law, more the latter than the former. Patents at least have a reasonable lifetime, but a copyright now is damn near forever, long past the actual lifetime of an author.

    The corporate interests of the world would, I'm certain, like to turn patents and copyrights into property forever, with no time out. That way they become pure commodities that can be bought and sold indefinitely. Imagine a world where the rights to Shakespeare's plays were still for sale, traded like pork bellies or mattresses. Imagine a world where you have to pay somebody every time you read, see, or hear one of Shakespeare's plays, where even media copies are sold per use, not as things you can own. That's the ideal of the publishing industry, with the ideal of the manufacturing sector and drug industry regarding patents close behind.

    This leaves the problem of enforcement, the big guns. Any law that is ignored as universally as the copyright laws are currently ignored is no law. They are unenforceable, and everybody hates them. The illusion that they are somehow necessary in order to reward the actual creators of IP, carefully fostered by the media industry, is finally breaking down as well. At some point in the evolution of the digital Universe we will probably find some way of directly rewarding the authors of books, creators of music, inventors of fabulous machines only but in a way that strips away the guarantee of huge profits for the (largely unnecessary) middlemen. But to get there, we have to pry congress away from the clutches of the large, wealthy, and loud lobbying groups that advocate for the protection of their "rights" to charge the moral equivalent of a toll for going down a public road.


To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire