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
Some day, you may be the defendant in a criminal trial that turns on whether the software in a forensic device reached a reliable conclusion about a DNA test or other piece of evidence. Wouldn’t you like to have your own experts check the source code on that device?
An official New Zealand government bulletin on yesterday’s conclusion of the still-secret Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations accidentally confirmed something we all believed was in there all along: an extension of copyright terms to match the USA’s bizarre, evidence-free, century-plus terms.
Tim Harford, the Financial Times’s Undercover Economist, writes about the Happy Birthday to You court case, which finally settled the question of whether the familiar birthday song was still in copyright (it isn’t) and uses that as a springboard to ask the question: how long should copyright last?
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