Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Who Owns The Content You Buy?

Update: this issue has been solved and the woman in question has had her purchased content restored. However, that isn't the point. The idea that a company who sells you a product still has ultimate control over that product is the overriding issue that should concern us all.

It was a story that shocked many but really shouldn't have. Last week, online bookseller Amazon.com decided that a Norwegian woman was in violation of their terms of service and decided to terminate her Amazon account and wipe the books she had legally purchased off of her Kindle ereader device. Worse still, when the user challenged Amazon on the decision she was met with a complete unwillingness from the company to even tell her why they'd taken the drastic steps and was basically told that the issue was closed.

As I said, this story shouldn't surprise anyone. Amazon has been very upfront about their ability to remove things from your Kindle and has even exercised that power at least once, removing legally purchased copies of the George Orwell classic 1984 from users devices.  In that case, the book had been put up for sale accidentally and in violation of the publishers wishes. It was, in essence, a copyright issue. But this is different. This is Amazon saying that if you ever break their terms of service or do something they don't like, they can punish you by removing everything you've ever bought from them from your device.

The message here is clear: you might have bought your digital content legally and followed all the rules, but you don't own or control it. Amazon does.

Such is another example of the problems with Digital Rights Management. It gives whoever holds the rights to the content you own (or whoever they say can exercise those rights) complete control over your property. If I purchase something that I don't fully control then can I really say I own it? No. In reality, I am simply paying a fee to use it. I'm renting and there's no requirement for the entity who controls the content or device to treat me fairly. They can do whatever they want. If I don't like it, I can go elsewhere, maybe, but I'm going to have to start over because they control the content I currently own.

DRM isn't about expanding freedom or protecting rights. It's really about giving the rights holder control beyond anything they could have in the non-digital world. Imagine buying a physical book from Amazon and then having an Amazon representative show up at the door a few months later to repossess the book because you'd used it in an unauthorized way. That's insane! But that's exactly what Amazon did in this case. Why? Because they could. DRM gave them the power to do it.

It's events like this that make fighting the imposition of DRM on our digital content so important. It's time we reject DRM and the businesses who impose it upon us completely. We need to refuse to do business with these companies and refuse the purchase products that are encumbered with the technology.

We would never accept DRM in the real world, why the hell are we accepting it on our digital content and devices?

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