You don’t own that e-book, you know

Hey all. I’ve been reading a lot about copyrights, buyers and sellers recently. That whole Amazon/Hachette debacle really got me going. And in the course of this investigating I found out something I’d had a feeling about, a notion if you will, but wasn’t sure about. Digital works. Songs and e-books and such. What I found out was, you and I, who paid money for these items legally, do not actually own them.

Yep, that copy of A song of Ice and Fire on your Nook, or Kindle that you paid $15.99 or whatever for, you don’t own that. You can’t lend it to someone else, unless you give them the tablet or device it’s loaded on. You can’t resell it, at a used bookstore or garage sale, like you could a physical book.

Click here for an example. This link is to Amazon’s Terms of Use for the Kindle reader. As a note, these terms would apply to any device with the Kindle app on them as well. Basically, it says you gain the right to view, use or otherwise consume the item(s) you paid for. You can’t, however,  sell, rent, or even give the relevant content(book, song, etc…) to anyone. Ever.

Well, what’s the big deal anyway, it’s just a digital copy, right? And it’s not like you could put a digital file on a table at your next garage sale. So…?

Well, here’s why I don’t like the idea.

E-books, digital songs and other media are becoming more and more popular. The day may come when physical copies are no longer even available. So if and when that happens, what next?

Here’s what I see. Today, right now, when you buy a digital copy of something, you technically own the license to use that item as described in the terms of service for as long as you own the account/device it was purchased on/for. But what’s to stop publishers, content owners, etc.. from making that license finite. Say five or ten years, then you don’t own that license anymore. Or even less, one year, six months. In fact, that’s good business, because you can sell the same thing to people over and over again without having to create anything new.

What bother’s me the most about this are the implications. If people get used to not owning the book, song, movie that they ‘bought’, then why not other things. It’s already happening with cars; don’t buy it, just lease it for pennies less than a regular payment. As generations grow up, they’ll get so used to the idea of not actually owning anything that it’ll seem completely natural not to have anything that belongs to them. I know, possessions are fleeting, as Buddhists say, but work and reward are backbones of our social structure. If you can’t keep anything you earned as a result of your hard work, why do anything at all?

I realize this sounds quite alarmist, and I’m likely off the mark by several inches. Digital items are here to stay, barring apocalypse of some sort. I just hate to think of this kind of leasing as becoming the norm with everything. Reselling serves a great purpose in our society, it allows people who can’t afford to buy something ‘new’ to afford it because it’s been ‘used’. Granted, digital goods don’t degrade the way a book tears or a car’s color fades, but the principle stands.

Well anyway, that’s my two-cents on the whole digital goods thing. Probably paranoid, I know, but hey , it could happen. But hopefully not.

‘Til next time,

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See You in the Future,

J S Eaton

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