Do We Really Own Our Digital Possessions?

This content has been archived. It may no longer be accurate or relevant.

From The Conversation:

Microsoft has announced that it will close the books category of its digital store. While other software and apps will still be available via the virtual shop front, and on purchasers’ consoles and devices, the closure of the eBook store takes with it customers’ eBook libraries. Any digital books bought through the service – even those bought many years ago – will no longer be readable after July 2019. While the company has promised to provide a full refund for all eBook purchases, this decision raises important questions of ownership.

Digital products such as eBooks and digital music are often seen to liberate consumers from the burdens of ownership. Some academics have heralded the “age of access”, where ownership is no longer important to consumers and will soon become irrelevant.

Recent years have seen the emergence of an array of access-based models in the digital realm. For Spotify and Netflix users, owning films and music has become unimportant as these subscription based services provide greater convenience and increased choice. But while these platforms present themselves clearly as services, with the consumer under no illusion of ownership, for many digital goods this is not the case. So to what extent do we own the digital possessions that we “buy”?

. . . .

The popularity of access-based consumption has obscured the rise of a range of fragmented ownership configurations in the digital realm. These provide the customer with an illusion of ownership while restricting their ownership rights. Companies such as Microsoft and Apple present consumers with the option to “buy” digital products such as eBooks. Consumers often make the understandable assumption that they will have full ownership rights over the products that they pay for, just as they have full ownership rights over the physical books that they buy from their local bookstore.

. . . .

However, many of these products are subject to end user licence agreements which set out a more complex distribution of ownership rights. These long legal agreements are rarely read by consumers when it comes to products and services online. And even if they do read them, they are unlikely to fully understand the terms.

When purchasing eBooks, the consumer often actually purchases a non-transferable licence to consume the eBook in restricted ways. For instance, they may not be permitted to pass the eBook on to a friend once they have finished reading, as they might do with a physical book. In addition, as we have seen in the case of Microsoft, the company retains the right to revoke access at a later date. These restrictions on consumer ownership are often encoded into digital goods themselves as automated forms of enforcement, meaning that access can be easily withdrawn or modified by the company.

. . . .

My research has found that many consumers do not consider these possibilities, because they make sense of their digital possessions based on their previous experiences of possessing tangible, physical objects. If our local bookstore closed down, the owner wouldn’t knock on our door demanding to remove previously purchased books from our shelves. So we do not anticipate this scenario in the context of our eBooks. Yet the digital realm presents new threats to ownership that our physical possessions haven’t prepared us for.

Consumers need to become more sensitised to the restrictions on digital ownership. They must be made aware that the “full ownership” they have experienced over most of their physical possessions cannot be taken for granted when purchasing digital products. However, companies also have a responsibility to make these fragmented ownership forms more transparent.

Link to the rest at The Conversation

PG suggests that there are not gray areas with ebooks like the OP implies.

In fact, no reader owns an ebook. They own a license to an ebook that describes their rights with respect to the ebook.

If the license says it can be terminated for any of a variety of reasons and such termination occurs, the reader will no longer have access to the book.

The legal difference between an ebook and a physical book, both of which are protected by copyright is the First Sale Doctrine. Per the United States Department of Justice:

The first sale doctrine, codified at 17 U.S.C. § 109, provides that an individual who knowingly purchases a copy of a copyrighted work from the copyright holder receives the right to sell, display or otherwise dispose of that particular copy, notwithstanding the interests of the copyright owner. The right to distribute ends, however, once the owner has sold that particular copySee 17 U.S.C. § 109(a) & (c). Since the first sale doctrine never protects a defendant who makes unauthorized reproductions of a copyrighted work, the first sale doctrine cannot be a successful defense in cases that allege infringing reproduction.

Further, the privileges created by the first sale principle do not “extend to any person who has acquired possession of the copy or phonorecord from the copyright owner, by rental, lease, loan, or otherwise, without acquiring ownership of it.”

. . . .

Most computer software is distributed through the use of licensing agreements. Under this distribution system, the copyright holder remains the “owner” of all distributed copies. For this reason, alleged infringers should not be able to establish that any copies of these works have been the subject of a first sale.

Link to the rest at US Department of Justice

Here’s a bit more on the First Sale Doctrine from Nolo:

Every day, millions of consumers make use of the first sale doctrine. This copyright doctrine permits the purchaser of a legal copy of a copyrighted work to treat that copy in any way he or she desires, as long as the copyright owner’s exclusive copyright rights are not infringed. This means the copy can be destroyed, sold, given away, or rented.

A common example is the rental of movie videos, where the store purchasing the disks is entitled to rent them out without paying any royalties to the owner of the copyright rights in the movie. The term “first-sale doctrine” comes from the fact that the copyright owner maintains control over a specific copy only until it is first sold.

. . . .

It is important to remember that the first sale doctrine is very narrow. It applies only to a specific copy. No rights are granted as to the underlying work.

For example, except as provided in the Copyright Act of 1976, the owner cannot reproduce, adapt, publish, or perform the work without the authorization of the author. All that the consumer can do is to dispose of the particular copy that has been purchased. For example, the first sale doctrine does not permit the owner of a book of copyrighted art prints to separate the prints, mount them in frames, and sell them separately.

Moreover, the first sale doctrine applies only to the owner of the work, not to a person who possesses the property but does not own it. For example, imagine that a store purchases a lawfully made copy of the movie, Gone With the Wind. As the owner of that copy, the store can rent it to an individual. However, the person renting it cannot rent the copy to someone else. Only the owner of the copy has such rights.

. . . .

There are exceptions to the first sale doctrine. As a result of lobbying by the computer and music industries, the rental of computer programs and sound recordings is prohibited. The sound recording exception is limited to musical works; it does not extend to audiobooks.

It is also not permissible under the first sale doctrine to destroy a fine art or photographic work that meets the requirements of the Visual Artists Rights Act (for example, signed and numbered photographs created in limited editions of 200 or fewer copies). The public policy rationale for this is obvious; as a society, we do not want to allow the destruction of original works of art under a narrow copyright provision.

. . . .

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there are no geographic limitations on the first sale doctrine. In that case, known as Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., a Thai student came to America to study, and engaged in a business arrangement with his family in Thailand. They would send him the books purchased in Thailand for a low price, and he would resell them in the U.S. market, which charged higher prices.

The student expanded the business and eventually earned $100,000 in profit. U.S. publishers sued the student, arguing that the first sale doctrine did not apply to “gray market goods,” which involve lawfully made goods that were imported into (but not made in) the United States.

The Supreme Court disagreed and ruled for the student, stating that as long as the copies were lawfully made under the direction of the copyright holder, there was no requirement that the books be manufactured in the United States. In other words, the student could use the first sale doctrine to do what he wished with his own copy of the book, even though he did not own the copyright.

Link to the rest at Nolo

Nolo has more about the Visual Artists Rights Act, which limits the rights of an owner of a physical art object in ways the rights of the owner of a printed book are not limited.

Certain types of artworks receive more rights than are normally granted under copyright law. The federal government has created a statute—the federal Visual Artists Rights Act (“VARA”)—that grants rights affecting the resale and destruction of artworks. Only some artworks receive protection under VARA—paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, or sculptures, in a single copy or limited edition of 200 copies or fewer (that are signed and consecutively numbered).

. . . .

The VARA statute protects you, as the creator of a work of visual art, from “intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work that would be prejudicial to your honor or reputation.”

This is the most powerful right granted under the VARA provisions. For example, if a collector buys a limited edition silkscreen from you (fewer than 200 prints were made), the collector cannot destroy it without your permission. If the work is destroyed, you can sue under VARA and recover damages, provided you can prove that your reputation was damaged.

The rule regarding destruction does not apply if:

  • the work was created prior to enactment of the VARA provisions on December 1, 1990
  • you specifically waived the rights in a written statement, or
  • the destruction or modification results from the passage of time or because of the materials used to construct the work. For example, certain works such as ice sculptures and sand sculptures by their nature self-destruct, and the owner would have no obligation to affirmatively prevent such destruction.

. . . .

If artwork is created as work made for hire, there are no VARA rights. That is, although normal copyright law applies to the work, neither the artist nor the person commissioning the work can claim rights under VARA. For example, if you hire an artist to paint a mural on your wall, you have the right to later destroy or repaint that wall, since the original mural was a work-for-hire.

Link to the rest at Nolo

For those who have noted the manner in which limited edition duplicate artworks are marked, e.g., “5/75,” one of the reasons for this mark is to give a purchaser notice that the work may be subject to VARA restrictions. Another is, of course, to communicate the rarity of a single piece of art – there are only 75 of this particular piece in the world.

Generally, a limited edition of a better quality than other duplicates of an artwork. Typically, the limited edition is made directly from the original and it is customary for the artist to supervise the creation of limited editions and to sign and number each one to help assure each copy’s authenticity and fidelity to the original.

The personal supervision of the artist usually involves the creation of one or more artist’s and/or printer’s proofs. High end printers intended for the creation of high-quality artistic duplicates can be adjusted to make the duplicates more accurate copies of the original artwork, which is typically scanned into a large digital file with sophisticated digital scanners.

Once the artist is satisfied with the quality of an artist’s proof, a production file is created and the settings of the printing press are locked into place to assure each limited edition print is faithful to the printer’s proof. After the production of all limited edition copies, typically, the production file and proofing files are destroyed so no further copies may be made.

Under common artistic replication standards, the creation of a limited edition does not preclude the artist from authorizing other copies of the original artwork in the form of mass-produced offset prints, giclées and canvas transfers which will be less accurate copies than a limited edition is.



45 thoughts on “Do We Really Own Our Digital Possessions?”

  1. I think it kinda depends on what you mean by “own”.

    If what you mean is that you have the legal power to resell, then you don’t own the digital product.

    But if it means you can legally strip the DRM, park the file somewhere that it can’t be deleted without your permission & share the file with your family & friends, then you own it for practical purposes.

    I mean, these days, do you really even sell your used paper books? I give mine to Open Books or stick them in a Little Free Library. It’s not as if there’s much residual value in books, either way…

    • There is a distinct difference between control and ownership. I can steal your car, park it somewhere where it can’t be found, and loan it to family and friends. That’s certainly control, but it’s not ownership.

      • If you are unable to enforce your right to control the car, you don’t own it.

        Ownership is a legal fiction, and to the extent that society agrees to that fiction, you have it. But if & when society starts to disregard your claim, you lose it.

        That’s one of the problems with the ownership of digital things. It’s hard to actually own intangibles if a large portion of society can disregard your ownership & get away with it – and if that portion of society thinks that your claim is inherently unfair.

        There’s a comparison I see with Prohibition. Prohibition didn’t work because a significant segment of society disregarded it. And one interesting thing about Prohibition is that the Volstead Act and the DMCA are structurally very similar. It’s almost as if the people who wrote the DMCA were copying off the VA.

        • If you are unable to enforce your right to control the car, you don’t own it.

          While I disagree, let’s apply that standard to the issue.

          Microsoft just exerted its right to control over the digital books. Therefore, the consumer doesn’t own them. We can see they were not deterred by any large portion of society.

          It appears the consumers were unable to enforce their rights to control over the books, so they don’t own them.

          And the car? That large portion of society disagrees with your statement about ownership. They exert their overwhelming power on my behalf to enforce my ownership of the car.

          • On your Microsoft point, what do you make of the fact Microsoft is apparently refunding the purchase price for the ebooks? That seems inconsistent with asserting that Microsoft “owns” the books. Of course, it could just be good PR, but why would it be necessary unless Microsoft thinks that its customers believe that for all practical purposes – meaning unlimited access – the customers “own” the books?

            It seems to me that in the digital world, the concept of ownership is being broken into two separate parts – the consumer “owns” the right to unlimited and perpetual access to an ebook, while the distributor/creator “owns” the right to make & sell copies. What seems to be happening with digital products is that the consumer’s access is in many instances not considered by the consumer to be unlimited nor perpetual, unless the consumer pays for the product without an upfront time limit on his use of the product. In the latter situation, the consumer thinks that he owns the book, at least to the point of keeping his own copy & sharing it with his friends.

            So when the distributor, like a library for ebooks or Amazon/Netflix for movie stream rentals, is upfront about the time limitations, consumers accept the idea that they are not buying a movie that they can keep, so long as the price is sufficiently lower than situations where the consumer is paying for unlimited and seemingly perpetual access.

            As for the car, I was making a sociological point. Ownership is a legal fiction. Laws simply embody the legal fiction that the society accepts (or that some segment of society can force society to accept) or the law fails – as with Prohibition. It is not at all inevitable that society will continue to accept that a person can “own” a car. Ask AOC.

            Outside of the law, “ownership” is nothing more than possession, plus the ability to maintain possession against others who want to possess the item for themselves. What the law does is embody a general agreement about when possession is legitimate to the point that we will gang up on anyone who doesn’t follow the rule. It appears to me that in connection with digital products, we have some rules that don’t entirely reflect the social consensus, maybe because we haven’t actually come to a social consensus. This is not unusual when technology changes.

            • On your Microsoft point, what do you make of the fact Microsoft is apparently refunding the purchase price for the ebooks? That seems inconsistent with asserting that Microsoft “owns” the books.

              It’s an acknowledgement that there was a lease, and MS is now terminating it. MS ownership does not imply there was no agreement with the consumers over their use of the MS property. Note MS is in charge.

              There are lots of situations we can cite outside the law. However, we have chosen to live under a social compact that does include laws covering ownership. We choose to live inside the law because experience shows such societies survive.

              • The lease in question was a sub-lease.
                Ages ago, Fictiowise (before B&N ran it into the ground) had a similar problem when its right to distribute certain books was withdrawn.


                They made their customers “whole” as best they could but many were left unsatisfied.

                A whole lot of people out there like to pretend that assignable/revocable leases are a new thing created solely to rip off readers. The reality is those go back 60 years and more. To at least the early mainframe days.

                Do note that those ebooks MS was distributing came to them via Ingram and, as pointed out above, most if not all were Agency tradpub titles. More, they were locked to reading solely within the Edge browser (which is moving to a Chromium code base) and because of that consumers had no control over the files to start with. (And they should have known that. Licensing terms are irrelevant when you can’t even see the file or do anything with it.) It might even be that legally, Microsoft had no control either, as they were acting as Agents. 😉

              • “There are lots of situations we can cite outside the law. However, we have chosen to live under a social compact that does include laws covering ownership. We choose to live inside the law because experience shows such societies survive.”

                But the social compact is not writ in stone. It’s dynamic, and we are in a period of marked change. Appealing to “the law” begs the question.

                The question I see is not “what is the law?” – it’s more like “what is the law going to be when it catches ups to the facts on the ground?”

                • Appealing to the law recognizes the system we have adapted, the same system Microsoft is operating under. It begs nothing.

                  Obviously things can change. But,presuming consumers will persist in ignorance isn’t supported by experience. Consumers learn and adapt. In the case of the Microsoft books, they will take the money, shrug, adapt, pursue their own interests.

                • I expect most of us are willing to knowingly buy/purchase/rent/lease/whatever app locked content on a one time basis. 48 hour movie rental from Amazon, that sort of thing.

                  Beyond that, some of us will buy/etc app locked content, because we know how to unlock it & stash it away from retrieval. Everything I acquire & intend to use in the future is unlocked & stashed, at any rate.

                  But truthfully, I expect most people to not learn what you hope they will, to the extent that distributors set a low enough price point for people to be willing to take the risk.

                  What bothers me most is something that also bothers me in the analog world, which is that it is possible for distributors/creators to simply abandon their work, no longer going after any profit in it (usually because there’s not enough) while keeping it from being accessed by anyone. A lot of this stuff is orphaned works still in copyright. Some of it is intentionally withheld from distribution. I think this should be considered as being a release into the public domain.

                • …And, hopefully, learn not to buy app-locked content ever again

                  Some of us will buy app-locked content because we don’t give a rip about any of this stuff. It’s very important to some authors, activists, and creators. That’s fine.

                  It’s a bit like DRM. Activists went on and on about DRM, and authors gave public testimony about how they would never click the DRM option box on KDP. Consumers never did care about it, and continued to buy whatever ebook they liked.

                • But truthfully, I expect most people to not learn what you hope they will, to the extent that distributors set a low enough price point for people to be willing to take the risk.

                  Consumers can’t take a risk unless they are indeed informed. They can unwittingly take an action with various outcome probabilities, but they aren’t taking a risk unless they are aware of the risk parameters.

                • If it’s a rental you’re not paying for ownership.
                  Same with library loans and subscriptions.
                  App locking costs you nothing.

                  But on sales it’s different.

                  It’s not a DRM issue–app locked systems restrict even otherwise DRM free content–it is purely about lock in.

                  There are zealots who won’t buy anything with DRM and they still buy from Amazon or Kobo or Google as long as the title is DRM-free. They can move it around, archive it, transcode it. (Even DRM’ed content on those systems can be archived.)

                  With an app-locked system the user is totally at the mercy of the vendor. And yes, some people don’t care.
                  Doesn’t mean nobody cares.
                  And enough people do care that no app-locked ebook system has ever survived. Not TomeRaider, not iSilo, not Target, and not Microsoft Edge books.

                  That right there says something.

                • And yes, some people don’t care.
                  Doesn’t mean nobody cares.

                  Pick anything in digital and some will exhibit passionate hatred, most will express benign neglect, and some will love it. Those at the extremes will become advocates for their personal positions.

                  The passion moves in cycles. DRM is the hot topic for a while. Then it switches to ebook prices and the race to the bottom. Then agency pricing takes a bow. And KU is a recurring favorite now that Select seems to have become boring. Don’t forget Amazon’s removal of reviews, failure to respond to indignant emails, disrespect for bloggers who demand answers, toleration of every scammer from Ponzi to Three-Card Monte sharks, page count, lack of trained telephone responders, removal of a book without explanation, and failure to give authors adequate explanation for the way they run their business.

                  As each topic takes its turn on the runway, we hear how it is ushering in the demise of something. Unless something is done, something will happen, and then they’ll be sorry.

                  I think we are a bit overdue for a good communal rant about how droves of authors will be leaving Amazon for some reason. Amazon will do something that raises questions, concerns, or says it all. (And authors always travel in droves.)

            • “It’s not a DRM issue–app locked systems restrict even otherwise DRM free content–it is purely about lock in.”

              I take it that by “app lock” you mean a situation where the content is contained within the app & cannot be extracted from it. Something like Hoopla or Spotify.

              That’s a category I hadn’t thought about, but now that you’ve identified it for me, I realize that I have a couple of such systems & if I wanted to, I could – at least in the case of audio or video – record the content on an item by item basis.

              It makes me wonder why Kindle, for instance, isn’t an app lock environment.

              • Kindle lets you download discrete files targeted at a specific device that you can archive locally and copy over via USB without breaking DRM.
                Of course, if the file is DRM-free you can copy it to any compatible device or app. Of which there are a few.

                The converse is also true, you can sideload compatible DRM-free files from any external source: homebrew, BAEN, Gutenberg, Feedbooks, wherever.

                The files are independent of the app, though not necessarily the user account (for DRM’ed ebooks).

                By contrast, tbe Edge epub reader function works one way: it will open any DRM-free epub file but you can’t move (or even see) the commercial books other than through the app. This behavior is fine for rentals but the market has shown a strong dislike for this approach. It’s not just me saying this. It’s consumers voting their wallets.

                As somebody or other is fond of saying: “Blessed is the free market…” because in this case consumers are free to tell vendors of app-locked ebooks to pound salt. And they have done so repeatedly.

                As I said, it’s not about DRM but rather about usability.

                Consumers are told over and over to back up their data in as many places as possible. Well, a majority has taken the warning to heart. Systems that don’t allow user backup are frowned upon. (Nook used to allow file downloads. This, combined with their social DRM, was a BIG plus for them in the early days when they rushed to 26% market share in 18 months. Then they ditched the ereader DRM. And they blocked PC file downloads. Nook owners are still carping. At least the ones still with Nook. The concern is what happens if and when Nook folds? What happens when the reader dies or they get a new PC?

                Not everybody buying ebooks is blissfully unconcerned about their investment. Considering how often vendors have closed up over the last seven years the horror stories are quite common.

  2. Yeah, and jaywalking is against the law, too.

    Laws which protect copyright ownership, such as not selling used copies of digital possessions or giving purchased copies away are sensible and understandable laws.

    Laws which insist on treating digital files as something which cannot be backed up legally… not so much. Imagine a law that says print books must be returned or destroyed on demand, or that they can be removed from your house.

    Whatever the fine print may say, trying to enforce laws which people don’t agree are sensible and understandable is… an uphill battle. This is a matter that has not yet been resolved for digital media of all sorts. Respect for copyright is a clear good. Personal digital file ownership beyond that remains unsatisfactory.

    All I can say is I’m very glad I wasn’t able to list my books on Microsoft Books (seems to have been trad-published only, as I recall) and thus was not tempted to purchase them there, either.

    • Imagine a law that says print books must be returned or destroyed on demand, or that they can be removed from your house.

      I think that law covers libraries.

      • Yeah, but libraries work because people generally agree with the underlying concept that patrons are borrowing the books & ought to return them. And in the digital world, they work because the default is that the libraries can automatically retrieve books when the lending period has expired. Most people operate in that framework because they are comfortable with the idea that a book can be read in 3 weeks. But if someone is halfway through the book, & doesn’t want to return it, at a minimum, all they need to do is keep their ebook reader off the internet till they finish reading it. (I’m not aware that anyone gets fined for a “late” return of an ebook – maybe they do! But I’ve never heard of it, have you?)

        I don’t think many ordinary customers who have paid for access to digital media really think they are borrowing what they are paying for. I’m not even sure that the concepts of “owing” and “borrowing” make any sense when you can stream things, and all you pay for is the digital channel to maintain access to them.

        We are trying to map analog concepts of possession onto digital media, & it’s a bad fit.

        • Consumers aren’t borrowing anything.
          They are buying access to the content in the form of a license to read (and in some cases, re-download.)

          There are worse things.
          Back in the PDA era, several ebook vendors didn’t sell licenses to read. They sold files. If you lost the file in a crash, accidentally deleted it, or lost the gadget… tough luck.

          Then there was the first Sony ebook reader, where the ebooks expired after 90 days. That, was renting.

          What we have is a compromise between content owners’ need to limit unauthorized redistribution and consumers desire to read and lend/gift/resell. Or copy and lend/gift/resell, which, by the way was (is?) common practice with CDs, where people can buy a CD, rip it to a lossless format, and sell the CD to a used disk store. It’s not just paranoia. There are unethical players out there. Not as many as there used to be, fortunately, but “content sharing” has killed otherwise viable platforms and formats.

          • “Borrowing” was not a good description, so I’ll amend it to say that customers don’t believe they are getting a revocable license to access digital media, other than in truly short-term rentals like movies.

            I don’t think anyone really knows what the economic impact of content sharing is. I’ve heard arguments both ways – that it reduces sales and that it increases them. Is the purchase of a used CD (or book for that matter) a lost sale? Would the buyer have paid full price for a new copy? Or bought something else?

            But in any event, Content sharing isn’t going to go away.

            In fact, it was with us in the analog media universe. I recently read Kipling’s article about meeting with Mark Twain, & it’s really interesting how penetrating Twain was about this. His books were pirated like mad, of course,

            • Nobody knows the extent of content sharing but we do know it is less than it used to be, more than content owners want, and can easily go back up to Napster-era levels of abuses and lawsuits.
              Both sides need to tread lightly and tone down the rhetoric.

              • If the pricing goes down enough, and the friction of the sales event is reduced to practically nothing, content sharing becomes irrelevant. Evading the system becomes more trouble than its worth.

                When we think of things in terms of ownership, we are missing the reality.

                Reality is about how much access, for how long, at what cost? And the money that’s to be made is not in an individual transaction, but in a kind of aggregate penny-skimming, a small increment of cost embodied in a service fee or a small monthly payment.

                Everywhere I look, big money seems to be made in small takings. We are all living on the digital installment plan…

  3. PG, you are quite correct that these companies are on firm legal ground.

    However, they are morally reprehensible, and guilty of “fraud by fine print.” Every one of them has a “Buy Now” button – not “Buy a License Now” button. The fact that the consumer is only buying a license, one which can be revoked solely at the whim of the seller, is buried.

    • I think the firmness of the legal ground depends on the entity trying to enforce the rules making a wise choice about who they are taking enforcement action against, and how much actual damage is being suffered.

      For individuals, the various laws about who owns digital content & what they can do with it are irrelevant, so long as what they are doing does not threaten someone’s income stream in an ongoing fashion.

      If I acquire a digital item, copy the file & share it with my family, I have nothing to worry about. If I post it on YouTube, there could be some pushback. Even then, it would probably just be takedown notices unless I were persistent.

      As courts have said, “de minimis non curat lex…The law does not concern itself with trifles; – a principle of law, that even if a technical violation of a law appears to exist according to the letter of the law, if the effect is too small to be of consequence, the violation of the law will not be considered as a sufficient cause of action, whether in civil or criminal proceedings.”

  4. Along these same lines, a few years ago, I was very excited about the available streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

    I had a huge DVD/Blu-ray collection of movies, of which I was very proud. I became convinced that any of them would be available on demand through one of these services, so I sold off most of my movie collection.

    Bad move.

    I spend lots of time now tracking down and purchasing replacements of the movies I so foolishly let go.

    Yes, I realize that many people have no interest in seeing a movie or TV show more than once, and that’s fine…but, for those of us that enjoy repeated viewings, owning a physical copy is a blessing.

    • Most movies are available via streaming but not in any single service. You need Netflix, Hulu, and Prime, combined. And being willing to do discrete rentals for the ones not included in the subscriptions. In another year or so the must haves will go to four if you’re into Disney content.

      Funny thing is it’s still way cheaper than cable.

      • True, Felix…but, for me, it’s easier to go the shelf and pull the physical disc for viewing. Rewinds are easy to take a look at something you missed, or a whisper you didn’t understand, because you can see the picture as it rewinds.

        Now, books…Not enough space for a lot of physical books, so ebooks are for me. I don’t believe the licenses will expire in my lifetime (I’m 59), so I’m not so worried about that!

        • I started buying movies digitally in 2006. I think the first one I bought was the excellent, Shooter, with Mark Whalberg.

          Since then I’ve bought about 200 digital movies. I’ve never had to buy the same movie twice.

          In that same period, I’ve had MULTIPLE DVD’s break, get lost, or simply just stop working. In the 10 years before that, I had to buy at least 4 DVD players.

          You don’t own the movie regardless of how you buy it. At least with digital, I can watch the movies whenever I want, I don’t have to go searching for the DVD because when I open the box it isn’t there. I don’t have to haul it around when I move. I also don’t have to re-buy it when the media decides to stop working.

          On the event of some sudden and strange apocalypse where all online content is no longer available, I will think of this thread and say “I told you so” in my head for all of you.

          In the meantime, I think I’ll go watch Shooter. I haven’t seen it in at least 10 years. Good thing I know right where it is.

          • There’s a middle ground. 😀

            Buy the disk, rip it to a big hard drive and put it on a home server. Use MR MC on a FireTV or P!ex or Kodi on just about anything. Personal video streaming service.

            If you have a !ot of CDs, do the same for a personal music streaming service.

            (The disks stay safe in a closet or bookcase.)

            Lots of people face the same issues, plenty of solutions exist. Personal preference which approach to take.

            • Felix, Jeff – you are both correct in how you manage your collections, and that’s fine! It’s like the KU/Wide discussion – what works for me won’t necessarily work for you…but it isn’t an issue! To each his own.

              • Yup.
                The important thing is we have options.

                It is nowhere as restrictive as some paint it. If nothing else it seems to be a reasonable balance between the needs of the creators and the needs of the users.
                As long as neither side gets overly…ambitious…the system will grow and prosper.

                BTW, the new Disney+ service coming in the fall is surprisingly well thought out, considering their reputation and track record. In particular, the way they manage downloads for offline viewing.

      • You need Netflix, Hulu, and Prime, combined.

        I haven’t done controlled testing, but…

        It looks like my Prime subscription has a seamless access between the networks I buy through Prime. I don’t have to go to Showtime to see Showtime stuff. Netflix, Prime, Showtime, and Hulu all appear to be in the same search engine. It looks like HBO and others are available, but I don’t subscribe. I’m not sure exactly how extensive it is, but that seems to be the direction. I don’t know where the movie is coming from unless I take steps to ID it.

        • Premium cable channels like HBO and Showtime can be accessed through multiple streaming services. Prime, Hulu, Apple, etc.
          Movies and old tv shows are different.
          Different back catalog movies are licensed for exclusive streaming to different services. Mostly because Netflix started demanding exclusivity a few years back.

          And Renting is a different story altogether. Rentals are usually available everywhere.

      • You’ve put your finger on one of the issues I see, which has to do with fragmentation of the digital marketplace, and how to overcome it.

        I cut the cable last year, and since we don’t watch much by way of digital entertainment, it has only been a problem when it comes to watching baseball. It’s the cost structure that creates the problem – I can save $100 a month by patchworking antenna TV, apps, &c in such a fashion that I can watch all the Cubs games. If I were only saving $20 a month, I wouldn’t bother. But sports is one area in which “ownership” seems not to play any part – it’s all about access.

        With ebooks, the fragmentation is basically between epub format & mobi/KFX format. For a while, I dealt with that by owning two different flavors of ebook readers, but these days I just strip the DRM & convert everything to one format. (It’s interesting that there doesn’t seem to be a viable “Netflix” for ebooks…)

        • To a large extent it is the desire for fragmentation that is driving cord cutting. Consumers have long clamored for ala carte programming choices–not paying for channels they don’t watch–as a way to cut costs.

          Streaming services are delivering what the cablecos refused to do and consumers are in fact saving significant money. And the second biggest savings are for video options without sports. The biggest come from doing without live channels and going with the on-demand services like Hulu, Prime, and Netflix.

          It turns out people didn’t really want “appointment TV”.

          • Cable channels are not all the same. Consumers get many channels they don’t pay for. The channel pays the cable company to push the channel to consumers. The channel then makes its money from ads. This is where we hear consumers say, “I don’t want to pay for that.” Well, you’re not.

            There are many other channels where the consumer does pay because the cable company pays the channel.

            Ala carte is a wonderful game. If consumers had complete control over what they receive, many would drop the channels that pay for consumer access because they simply don’t want them. And many would drop channels the cable company does pay for.

            We can make a good case that total cable revenue would fall significantly. That means many channels would not survive.

            We can also make a good case that in order to survive, lower subscription volume for individual channels would force individual channels to increase price.

            We would be left with a system where each channel operates like HBO, Showtime, or the football packages. Then we get a very interesting question. How many consumers would pay less than they do now, and how many would pay more? Would aggregate cable revenue go up or down?

            • For some reason, your comment reminds me of buying cars.

              You go into a dealer & find that you have a choice of models & packages, but the one thing you can’t do is build your car from scratch, selecting each component separately, because the components are bundled in often non-rational ways.

              You wind up with a car that has a feature you don’t care about, because you can only get the feature you care about as part of a package that includes both. Or you simply can’t have a feature you want because other features in the package are not acceptable – for example, you might not want leather seats for moral or practical reasons, but you can’t get some other feature you do want unless you get the package which includes leather seats.

              So you could be right – ala carte has downsides which are economically unrealistic to the point where some “choices’ cease to exist – so the market responds with “packages” that aggregate the choices in an economically viable way.

              If you can afford it, you can buy the luxury car with the total package – cable. If you are cheap (my ex-wife prefers “thrifty”) you seek out over-the-air antennas & dedicated apps, in order to minimize costs. And in the middle, you buy the package with the features you don’t want because you do want leather seats which aren’t sold separately – Sling TV comes to mind.

              And here’s where the question of ownership comes into play, because it’s possible for subscriptions to be shared – legitimately or illegitimately – and you can see all sorts of arrangements that providers accept or don’t accept ranged around how subscriptions can be shared. But you also see consumers accepting or rejecting those limitations – giving friends their passwords, for example.

              • Sling is actually pretty good with their add-on packages.
                They are small, cheap, and target the same basic audience. For example they bundle the Lifetime Channels with the Hallmark channels. Yeah. Right in my mother’s wheelhouse. 🙂

                Thing is, though, long term even those live viewing channels will fade.

                What is dying isn’t cable or broadcast or ad-supported content. It’s the whole scheduled broadcast model that is dying. Netflix proved the model is dated. Bingeing is the new normal. Whether shows be released in bulk, a season at a time, or as a weekly serial will endure a while but the key point is the scheduled broadcast is being replaced by consant availability. Missed this weeks DOOM PATROL friday? So what? You can watch it monday. Miss the first ten episodes? You can catch up in an evening or two or wait to binge the entire sixteen chapter season next month. The pain will be in waiting ’til next year for the second season. It’s long tail economics. What matters is total viewership (and show quality) not time slot.

                Over time, even the antenna will be superfluous. Everything will move to the internet. Might take another generation but it will happen. Not everything will be by subscription. If anything, ad-supported content will increase. (Because streaming, live or on-demand, offers real time viewership data. No more Nielsen estimates or counting streaming viewers as a fraction of the broadcast viewer.) Look to the CW apps. No personal information is required to watch. But they can prove how many viewers each show has. No more guesstimating. And no more subsidies.

            • Indeed.
              There are quite a few cable channels that would not exist without bundling subsidies.
              Some might exist as premium add-ons, like the sports channels, but many would indeed go away. They might not even be missed.

              It’ll be interesting to see what happens when, not if, that happens. Because we are headed that way.

              There will be surprises. Like, the Disney kids channels? Among the earliest to go.

  5. While the company has promised to provide a full refund for all eBook purchases, this decision raises important questions of ownership.

    What’s the question?

  6. So one day you get into your car, attempt to start it… and the instrument panel tells you the license for the engine computer’s software has been terminated.

    Sound ridiculous? That ship sailed almost twenty years ago, when Ford managed to get a court to agree the software in their computers was a separate, licensed product separate from the automobile itself.

    • Perhaps I can get a third party modification of the software that eliminates all that emissions stuff. Power going where I want it, not where Ford or some tree hugger wants it.

      • You can in fact do that. And easily.
        Not unheard of, for precisely those reasons.

        Car hacking is a thing, too.
        Rare but doable. Good for a murder mystery. “Who hacked the billionaire’s limo right off a bridge?”

Comments are closed.