ReDigi: Selling Digital Music Files

by justindburton on November 18, 2011

Pretty fascinating read in the NY Times recently on a business called ReDigi, which offers the service of selling second-hand digital music files. To the surprise of exactly no one, the legality of the practice is being questioned, and John Ossenmacher, the chief executive of ReDigi, has already been sent (though he denies receipt) a cease-and-desist letter by RIAA.

Mr. Ossenmacher, who has a background in technology and marketing, with several patents for fluorescent lighting and experience in social networking, said that his company has developed a process it calls an “atomic transaction” that can transfer files between users without copying.

That and other claims have been disputed by music and technology specialists, including Steve Scherf, a founder of CDDB, a system now known as Gracenote, that is widely used by iTunes and other programs to analyze and identify the music on people’s computers.

“I have some serious doubts about their technologies,” Mr. Scherf said in an interview. “There are things in it which as far as I can tell are just hype.”

Mr. Ossenmacher said that ReDigi could tell if a user tried to put a file on their computer after already uploading it for resale. The service can also detect if a song on a connectediPod is another such copy, and would suspend a user’s account if the files were not removed. But he conceded that the service is not foolproof.

“If someone willfully wants to violate copyright law,” he said, “then there may be ways that they can ultimately beat the system.”

It’s not at all difficult to imagine that this last statement from Ossenmacher is true; it is, in fact, the story of the last decade and a half of digital music. What I’m curious about is the so-called “atomic transaction.” Is Ossenmacher really suggesting the transfer of a file from one hard drive to another that doesn’t include copying? This strikes me as fundamentally impossible (please, someone, tell me if I am wrong about this). Which leaves “atomic transaction” to simply refer to the idea that ReDigi’s practice of deleting what it takes is in the spirit of the law that prevents unwarranted copying.

What do we think of this? Does this seem like a legitimate practice? Is there the possibility of a second-hand market for digital files that would conform to the law?

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