The issue of personal ownership of digital content is one of major league importance in my book. In fact, it is so important I’m only going to discuss that one topic today and leave a discussion about the introduction of new Barnes & Noble Nooks, a new Barnes & Noble video streaming service and the fact that the state of California really did pass that law I mentioned in a previous blog posting – the one allowing self-driving cars to drive on the roads of California! I’m going to leave all those tantalizing tech subjects for tomorrow.
I found a great article on the British tech site onestopclick: Researching Technology Solutions today that discusses personal ownership of digital content which in my opinion is the largest part of the important digital rights pie puzzle today.
And when I use the terminology “digital rights” here I’m not referring to the digital rights management software that digital content creators or rights holders insist be incorporated into their e-books, e-audios (including audiobooks and music) and e-videos – and which blocks people that buy those e-books, e-videos and e-audio titles from being able to listen to or watch those items on any tech device they own – their smartphone, their iPad, their iPod touch, their Android tablet, their PC or Mac etc. instead, I mean the rights of individuals who “purchase” digital content to actually own that digital content.
I think this issue is completely overshadowed by other issues like the rivalry between Amazon, Apple and the Big Six publishers* and is frankly more important that the actual price of e-books. The essential crux of the matter is the fact you cannot currently buy digital content. Instead when you click or tap that buy button to “buy” an e-book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Apple via the iBook store etc. – you’re not really buying the content instead you’re buying access to it as it if were a piece of software and not a book, video or audio item.
And you’ll notice that I have the words “buy” and “purchase” in quotation marks in those previous two paragraphs…
And the reason for that is because I just want to re-iterate the fact that I’m not sure most people are aware of; but one that being intellectual property advocates those of us working in library land are acutely aware of — the fact that when you click or press the buy button to buy an e-book, an e-audio or an e-video you aren’t really buying that item. Instead, you are buying a license to access that item. So unlike physical formats – print books, DVDs, CDs, LPs etc. you are limited as to what you can do with that digital e-book, e-audio or e-videos. You don’t really own the digital items you buy and thus unlike the physical formats you can’t usually loan them to someone, give them to someone else, donated them to your local library or leave them to your heirs in your will.
This whole situation of the rights of the individual to access books, videos and audios in the digital format is a huge one and I see the licensing, as compared to the purchasing, of those formats to be a huge threat to intellectual freedom.
Think of it this way – say a great classic novel was written today and published in the e-format only – in other words, only as an e-book; and the rights to that work were owned by one large publishing company that decided later on, after a dispute with the estate of the great author who had sadly passed young (think Stieg Larsson) – to pull that e-book from being available for sale and pull e-book versions already purchased by the paying public right off their e-readers so that no one has access to that great work. So just like that – zap! That e-book disappears and the reading public cannot gain access to it.
If you think it can’t happen – it already has! In 2009 Amazon did just that – they deleted copies of the e-book 1984 from purchasers Kindles because Amazon’s didn’t have a license to sell those versions of the e-book titles – despite the fact that the titles were sold by Amazon through the Amazon website!
Now granted, George Orwell’s 1984 is a book that you can find multiple copies of at your public library; however, it still illustrates the point that we need changes in the way copyrights are interpreted in the digital age.
Why shouldn’t you be able to purchase an e-book, really buy it and own it instead of licensing a copy, and later give it to a friend or family member or read it on any device you own instead of being locked into a specific electronic platform?
And that question is the big one I see that doesn’t seem to be mentioned much when the press covers the subject of e-books and disputes over how much large media and publishing companies can charge consumers for them for comes up. The subjects of unfair prices that The Big Six Publishers and Apple claim that Amazon sets and/or the unfair pricing practices that Apple and the Big Six publishers offer customer in the in the U.S. according to the Department of Justice – those subject do frequently pop up in the news; however, if you do a Google news search for “e-book ownership” as I did to find the cool onestopclick article, which cites some solid scholarly sources*2, you’ll find only an occasional article that truly relates to issue of the rights of consumers to buy content print wise (and the so called “Fair Use” doctrine*3) versus digital wise.
And in the last few weeks a story broke that well highlighted this issue and one that, unfortunately, turns out to be untrue. It was reported that the actor Bruce Willis was going to sue Apple because he wanted to be able to bequeath the digital content he purchased from iTunes, in the form of music, videos and e-books, to his daughters and had been told he couldn’t – his license to the content would expire when he did…Now, that story is untrue but it does illustrate the point – you don’t own the digital content you buy – and we should all speak up and start telling publishers, media companies and our legislators that we the people want to own the e-books, e-audios and e-videos we buy when we click or tap on that buy button!
If you missed the 2009 story about Amazon deleting copies of 1984 from Kindle owner’s Kindles – here’s the link to a New York Times tech blog article on the subject:
And that onestocpclick article, the one that got me going on this subject today, is titled Digital Ownership: why you don’t own the content you buy; it was written by Kerry Butters and originally posted yesterday (9-25-12) on the onestopclick website.
Here’s the link:
Have a great day!
*1) The Big Six Publishers are the six largest publishers in the United States today: Random House, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Macmillan, HarperCollins & Hachette. And I have to briefly note that one of those Big Six Publishers offers e-books for unrestricted licensing sale to public libraries – Random House – of course they charge libraries about $85-$100 for new e-book best sellers but then that is another blog posting…
*2) The largest solid/scholarly report on the subject – which is cited in the onestopclick article is titled The Hargreaves Report and was done by Professor Ian Hargreaves of Cambridge University who offers justification as to why it is so necessary to intellectual freedom and economic growth to get copyright law caught up with the digital times…You might want to check it out – there is a link to it within the onestopclick article or you can access it at the following link:
*3) Here’s a link to an official explanation of what the term copyright related term“fair use” means – offered by the U.S. Copyright Office at the following link: