Tag Archives: digital rights

Who Really Owns “Our” Stuff?

In the long run there is something to be said for less manufacturing and more borrowing.  But its a painful transition. 

When we purchase a “product” these days it seems less like we have taken ownership of something and more like we have purchased a set of open-ended permissions. Our relationship to some products is now much more fraught with ambiguous limits about how they may be used, loaned or copied.  I’m still not sure who actually owns “my” music on ITunes. Apple treats every music customer like a supplicant. Ditto for e-book purchases from Amazon.  I can read them, but their portability beyond their approved platforms seems limited.  The same ambiguity exists with films purchased via a cable supplier.  I have access to the one film I did “buy” through our cable provider.  But it’s not like I can put it into my pocket and share it anywhere.  And just last week I was surprised to be asked to log on to a Microsoft site with a work password to look at my Word files on my home computer.  If we ever had the fortitude to read the fine print, we would find that the digital rights of a copy of something we think we “own” still belong to the seller.  Companies apparently pay people a lot of money to dream up ways to put strings on lots of different kinds of products.  They want to be gatekeepers.

It turns out the Tesla Automobiles appears to operate under the same logic. I can imagine that buyers of their electric cars are accustomed to leasing everything from from property to music. But to an older car buyer, it might take some attitude adjustment to get used to the idea that the performance characteristics and driving range of a given car can be reset remotely by Tesla.  Pay more, and they can send code to the car’s computer that will make it run longer or faster.

Without doubt, digital library books seem to work well.  In the case of libraries, we know that the borrowed book is never ours.  And it certainly is far more convenient when the return process can happen without having to travel to the library’s physical location.

Anyone who looks at offices or homes will notice the people still like to collect things. In my home CDs and books are still on the shelves.  There are even some 78s hanging around and ready to live again on a 1904 Victor record player. Sure, I could pay to have digital access to Irving Aaronson’s 1928 recording of Let’s Misbehave. It’s not Stravinsky, but it’s fun.  And sometimes an older medium is the message. Seeing a needle the size of a nail working through the old shellac recording is part of the experience of hearing Cole Porter’s  irreverent lyrics.

In the long run there is something to be said for less manufacturing and more borrowing.  but its a painful transition.  There are predictions by thoughtful people that even the age of the private automobile will pass.  It’s hard to imagine, especially if a person lives in a rural location.  I’m also from a generation when a car was seen as a freedom machine.  Then, the more open road was always an irresistible temptation.