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Apple follows Amazon's footsteps with patent for shareable digital content

Apple seems to be following in Amazon's footsteps, with a recently published patent tipping digital lending capabilities.

The application, filed in June, explores techniques "for managing access to a digital content item (such as an ebook, music, movie, software application) to be transferred from one user to another."

The company described a system whereby a particular eBook or song could only be in the possession of one person at a time. Once the content is handed off to another device, only the new owner can access it.

"After a seller sells and delivers a physical item to a purchaser, the seller is typically no longer involved in further disposition of the physical item," the patent said. "Similarly, once an instance of a digital content item has been purchased by and distributed to an end-user, the seller of the digital content item is usually no longer involved."

This process essentially opens the door for items to be flipped - purchased from one person and immediately sold to another for a higher price. But Apple came prepared, allowing for publishers to set their own restrictions on used sales. The publisher may set a minimum price at which the file can be sold, as well as a time period before it can be transferred again.

A future complete with digital content sharing is a bright one for consumers, but Ars Technica pointed out that publishers, musicians, and other content creators instead see this move as a possible threat to their existing revenue models.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last month, Amazon was awarded a similar patent that was originally filed in May 2009 — three years before Apple got around to it. Amazon is looking to build "an electronic marketplace for used digital objects," including eBooks, audio, video, computer applications and more.