Open Letter: How Amazon can fix Kindle DRM

Dear Amazon,

First, I need to let you know something. I love the Kindle 2. I think it is amazing. It is everything a sci-fi geek like myself daydreamed about as an ideal ‘electronic book’. It’s pretty damn near perfect, in my eyes.

That said, I’m not planning on buying one. It’s not because I don’t want one. It’s not because there are not enough titles available. It’s not the recession. It’s not because I think it is too expensive. I’m also not going to buy any Kindle books for use with the free iPhone application; because my issue is not about the device.

My problem is 100% with the Kindle DRM as it currently exists. At present, the implementation of Kindle DRM strips the purchaser of something known as ‘The First Sale Doctrine‘. The first sale doctrine is recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States, but not by Amazon. This means that it is not possible to sell, or give away, a used Kindle title that the purchaser no longer wants. To be honest, I don’t sell many books, and I have fifteen boxes of books in the garage that prove that point; but I refuse to give up my right to sell them if I want.

Amazon has the power to fix this. Amazon could restore the rights of the First Sale Doctrine.

I recognize that Amazon needs to control the DRM mechanism, and that Amazon would need to be part of the transaction, in order to prevent a purchaser from loaning or selling multiple copies of the same title to multiple people. There are several software vendors who allow a customer to de-register an installation on one machine so that it can be installed on a different machine. The technology exists, and Amazon just needs to implement it.

They even have half the tools necessary already in place. If you take a look at just about any physical book listed on Amazon, there is a button on the right that says “Have one to sell? (Sell yours here)”. So, the system for selling books, not just buying them, already exists on Amazon. Now they just need to enable that feature for the Kindle digital titles. I would envision it working like this:

  1. I own a Kindle copy of Stranger in a Strange Land and I want to sell it.
  2. I navigate to the product page for this title on the Amazon site and click the (Sell yours here) button. Alternatively, there would be a ‘sell this title’ link on the “Manage Your Kindle” page.
  3. Amazon auto-populates a few of the fields such as title, author, ISBN; but I would have the ability to set my own price and personalize my description of the book.
  4. When I submit the item for sale it starts in a ‘pending’ status, and remains there until each and every one of my authorized devices has been synced with the site and the title has been removed. This includes Kindles, iPhones and computers.
  5. Once all repositories have been deleted, the item would show up for sale on the Amazon site.
  6. When it sells, I would get my sell price minus Amazon’s fee for the transaction.

There would be a couple of other things necessary for this to work:

  • The seller should be able to cancel the sale listing, and Amazon would make the title available for sync in their account again.
  • Amazon would need to keep track of titles sold by a user, and check for them every time the user’s devices synced with Amazon. This would prevent someone from accidentally restoring from backup a title they had sold or made available for sale. Presumably a user could re-buy the same title, so Amazon would need to track each Kindle DRM enabled title by a unique identifier.

I think Amazon not only could do this, but that they need to do this. They need to do this in order to respect the rights of their customers.

Not only that, when they do implement this I’ll buy myself a Kindle 2.


Update: Amazon is getting into the market of ‘trading in’ used video games, so why can’t they do this for Kindle DRM titles?

Update 2010-10-24: In response to a couple of slashdot comments:

  • One reason the publishers might allow this type of resale system is that they could negotiate with Amazon to take a cut of all re-sale transactions. They have no legal right to a cut with used sales of physical books.
  • Yes, I would prefer a world without DRM. Sadly, we are not there yet. In the meantime, this would be a better step forward than Amazon blindly copying Barnes & Noble’s method of letting you ‘loan’ an eBook once. It’s a bad scheme, made worse so because they stupidly this bad scheme from someone else.


I use Amazon affiliate links in some of my posts. I think it is fair to say my writing is not influenced by the $0.40 I earned in 2022.