After reading the wailing and teeth gnashing on Scalzi's site, I actually read the patent in question. Such a comedown - I was expecting Armageddon, she-devils, and a return of the Spanish Inquisition from the overall reaction people were displaying. Turns out they were reacting more to the headline than the patent itself, as I tried to explain/babbled/basked in the internet pleasure of hearing my own voice:
Interesting read and fascinating comments, but did anyone bother to actually read the patent in questions? Aside from the two folks who posted links to it?
The patent addresses setting up a user-to-user marketplace for the legal transfer of digital licenses for ebooks, music, videos, etc. It includes provisions for an optional nominal transfer fee by the marketplace operator, and the optional configuration of both maximum number of downloads per license and/or maximum number of transfers per license. It's more akin to the way Amazon sells used paper books now where the individual seller sets the price, pays Amazon a small percentage, and the buyer chooses which seller to buy from.
The used ebook licenses are not unlimited - they are based on previous legally purchased licenses. They do depreciate in value with each transfer - the number of subsequent permitted transfers is decremented by one with each sale, moving towards total depletion, likewise the total number of allowed downloads might also decrease with each download to a device.
The legality of this will be interesting to see - there are precedents with respect to the resale of software licenses, though I'm not sure if there are cases decided contrary to the EULA or not. From the language in the patent, Amazon appears to be possible intent on working with the rights owners regarding the resale permissions allowed. Unless, of course, some legal decision concretely settles the first-sale doctrine vis-a-vis digital media in the purchasers favor.
I think the "threat" to authors and traditional publishing from this are not the risk that dishonest folks will keep a non-drm'ed backup and sell their original - to be blunt, most of the folks capable of or intent on doing that are quite able to harvest their books from the dark net anyway.
The "threat" is that your everyday average user will be satisfied with reading a book once, and then reselling to someone looking for a bargain. Why this should be a problem when the original ebook price is on par with a hardcover, I have no idea.