A couple of days a go, my friend Linn sent me an e-mail, being very frustrated: Amazon just closed her account and wiped her Kindle. Without notice. Without explanation. This is DRM at it’s worst.
I cannot verify whether the e-mail exchange actually happened or whether both parties are being honest, but it is instructive of the trouble with digitally “owning” something.
In digital form, in extremis, you own very little of what you think you own. A lot of the time you are merely leasing the material. So long as nothing goes wrong, and so long as you stay onside with the usually unburdensome terms and conditions nobody will notice.
For example, most music, films and books bought online are in fact leased. You have full use rights of the material you purchase but you don’t own it, and your use rights can be revoked if you transgress the terms and conditions nobody reads.
Most people don’t know this, and this is why people don’t mind. However, as seen at the link at the top of this page, when you break, or are thought to have broken, the terms and conditions of the lease it can be cancelled and all the content you thought you owned will vanish.
This points to one reason people pirate material. Pirated material is material you own, unlike most of that provided commercially. Paradoxically, it is in the real world that ownership allows anonymity. In reality, we are all very traceable on the internet. Each click or digital transaction involves electronic data passing between two known, verifiable and unique IP addresses.
When you buy something in a shop in the real world you usually don’t know where the other guy lives, but on the internet you know just where their computer “lives.” That means if you annoy the person from which you bought a game, song, book or movie they can slip in and silently take what you bought.
The internet and tech sector is growing much more quickly than the rest of the economy. That means that digital goods are becoming a bigger part of what we own and these problems are multiplying. As the digital world expands more and more of the valuable things you own could end up being leased and power will pass from the state and from individuals to private companies.
Kinda creepy when you think about it.