You bought it, you own it, right?

In the latest Electronic Frontier Foundation post for Copyright Week, Corynne McSherry tackles one of the most troubling aspects of modern copyright law: the idea that even though you've bought a device or a copyrighted work to play on it, they're not really your property. Because of the anti-circumvention rules (which are supposed to backstop "copy protection"), it's illegal to discover how your technology works, to tell other people how their technology works, to add otherwise lawful features to your technology, and to make otherwise lawful uses of your media.

You bought it, you own it, right? Not always. Over the past decade, we have been quietly shifting to a world in which both digital goods (like mp3s, video files, and ebooks) and physical goods that contain software (like cars, microwaves, and phones) are never truly owned, but only rented.

Not to worry, say big copyright holders; people don’t want to be owners, because all they really care about is “access,” and more and more content is being made “accessible” in more and more ways. Sure, you might have to pay a premium for the “privilege” of, say, watching the movie you “bought” on more than one device, but no one’s forcing you to do it. Besides, they tell policymakers, just give us more tools to punish unauthorized uses and we promise to build more “authorized” channels – as long as users are willing to pay for them.

There are a lot of reasons they are wrong. Here's just a few:

First, most people have no idea that all they bought was a license. After all, the button they clicked on the Amazon site said "Buy," not "Rent." Little do they know that Amazon has the right to (for example) remotely delete books from their library, without notice, at Amazon’s whim. Or that the holiday special they were planning to see might suddently become "unavailable."

The Copyright Week campaign comes with six principles for you to sign up to.

You Bought It, You Own It! Time to Reclaim the Right to Use/Tinker/Repair/Make/Sell/Lend Your Stuff

Notable Replies

  1. If Amazon revokes my license to an ebook or movie (like they did with 1984 a while back) do I get a refund?

  2. Purchased Digital Content will generally continue to be available to you for download or streaming from the Service, as applicable, but may become unavailable due to potential content provider licensing restrictions and for other reasons, and Amazon will not be liable to you if Purchased Digital Content becomes unavailable for further download or streaming. You may download and store your own copy of Purchased Digital Content on a Compatible Device authorized for such download so that you can view that Purchased Digital Content if it becomes unavailable for further download or streaming from the Service.

    More here, but it seems like their position is that you need to make your own backups for anything you "buy".

    It appears, however, that Amazon can delete everything on your Kindle if it really wants to. My guess is that if Amazon has decided that you have done something wrong (as opposed to Disney deciding it does not want a video available for streaming), then you are out of luck.

    With 1984, Amazon deleted the books and issued a refund, but then said that in future situations like that (where it did not actually have permission to distribute the book) it will not delete copies already bought.

  3. daneel says:

    I thought the phrase was 'You break it, you bought it"?


    That said, perhaps if you do want to own it, you do have to break it (break the DRM, at any rate...)

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