The New Marketplace: Used Digital Files

A debate is raging in the publishing industry about whether the selling of secondhand ebooks is legal. One startup isn’t waiting for the dust to settle.

Tom Kabinet.nl is an online marketplace for used ebooks that essentially acts as a liaison between buyers and sellers: it processes credit cards (for a fee), and oversees the transfer of the ebook file. This model is very similar to that employed by ReDigi, “the world’s first pre-owned digital marketplace.”

One important difference between Tom Kabinet and ReDigi, though, is that ReDigi requires users to install an app that ensures the digital file is deleted once it is sold. Tom Kabinet, on the other hand, employs the honor system, trusting its sellers to delete ebook files after sale, but not enforcing this rule.

The trust given the seller at Tom Kabinet does not extend to the buyer, however: digital watermarking, alluded to in Tom Kabinet’s FAQs, embeds details about the purchaser into the ebook files as they are transferred. So while the Tom Kabinet seller is trusted to delete an ebook after it’s sold so as not to resell it yet again, the buyer’s personal data is actually embedded within the purchased product to discourage further distribution.

Despite this apparent double standard, it seems that at least in the United States, the reselling of ebooks is legal thanks to details within the Capital Records vs. ReDigi ruling from April 2013. Essentially, it is legal to resell an ebook (or any other digital file) in the U.S. so long as you sell the medium upon which it resides. Despite having lost the Capital lawsuit over a year ago, ReDigi continues to operate under this theory, and even has a patent for it.

So too will Tom Kabinet continue to operate under this assumption, at least in the United States. Laws on piracy and shared digital files are just as much in flux in Europe as they are in the U.S., so while for now it’s business as usual, Tom Kabinet will likely be facing a major lawsuit very soon.

Leave a Reply