Who Owns Your Digital Property?

Eddie Braverman's picture
Rank: The Pro | 21,180

Many of you probably have substantial music libraries purchased from Apple's iTunes Store, and you believe that it's yours. You might be surprised (as I was) to learn otherwise. It turns out that, much like draft beer, you never actually buy digital music from Apple, you merely rent it. And actor Bruce Willis is considering suing Apple to change all that.

Any of you who've been reading my stuff for a while know that I absolutely hate Apple's DRM policies and always have (despite the fact that I'm long AAPL). It is the reason I will never own an Apple product. But they're not the only company guilty of digital tyranny. When I think about the slave army that produces terabytes worth of content for free so Facebook and others like them can monetize it, it makes me cringe.

But I think this is going to become a very important question over the next 20 years, and Bruce Willis may be firing the opening salvo in a protracted battle over who owns your digital property/content. It all stems from Willis discovering that he cannot bequeath his music collection (reportedly worth thousands of dollars) to his heirs because that's a violation of the iTunes TOS.

Hundreds of millions of people download music from iTunes every day without giving a thought to what they're agreeing to by doing so. But it is a strict licensing agreement that forbids the transfer of any songs to anyone but the purchaser. And when the purchaser dies, the purchaser's collection dies with him.

I'm not just picking on Apple here. I buy all my music from Amazon and for all I know they have the same restrictions. What peeves me a bit (and I suppose it's a touch of sour grapes as much as anything else) is that Apple saw the writing on the wall with the fall of Napster, and took advantage of everyone's (read: lawmakers) ignorance to institute these draconian terms virtually unchecked. Once again, past is prologue.

All I know is that we are all collecting a ton of digital property as we traipse through this brave new world. If I thought I was going to lose my Kindle collection upon my death, I'd be pretty bummed about that. I'm approaching 1,000 volumes on Kindle. That's a shit-ton of information I'd like to pass down to my boys, and it would be a shame to lose it.

Plus there's all the content we provide our various communities, including WSO. Ownership of that becomes a sticky issue if it isn't spelled out ahead of time.

What do you guys think? Is this a big deal or a tempest in a teapot? Were you aware that you were essentially leasing your digital music? Especially when it comes to Apple, because they have God capabilities to shut you down and disable your entire library (to my way of thinking, that is perhaps the best reason to go the open source route rather than Apple). Who owns your stuff?

Comments (17)

Sep 4, 2012
Sep 4, 2012
shifty_farker:

For what it's worth:

http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2012/09/bruce-willis-not...

Shit, I've been had.

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Still, I see this becoming a big issue over the next two decades.

Sep 4, 2012

Why buy music at all when you have Pandora and YouTube? It's not even worth the effort to download music anymore, let alone pay $1.29 for a song I'll listen to 10 times, then never again.

Sep 4, 2012
BTbanker:

Why buy music at all when you have Pandora and YouTube? It's not even worth the effort to download music anymore, let alone pay $1.29 for a song I'll listen to 10 times, then never again.

Same thing with movies: who the hell bothers?

Still though, this is kind of a crappy situation.

Sep 4, 2012

I think anything you have paid for should be (and will be once the law changes and I believe it will) yours to keep and to pass down through a will.

Things you have not paid for and for which the service is provided free of charge should remain the property of the service in question (thinking Facebook photos).

Sep 4, 2012
Asatar:

I think anything you have paid for should be (and will be once the law changes and I believe it will) yours to keep and to pass down through a will.

Things you have not paid for and for which the service is provided free of charge should remain the property of the service in question (thinking Facebook photos).

I agree with this ^

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

Sep 4, 2012

i am going to go back to pirate bay.

Sep 4, 2012

The answer doesn't come down to ownership per se but who owns the actual rights and terms of those rights might actually be spelled out in the Terms of Service. While I do believe that digital distribution, just like physical distribution, means that the end user owns the final product, if Apple, vis-a-vis iTunes, is smart enough to include a line that you are paying for the rights to listen to the songs that you purchase, are leasing the songs from Apple for the duration of your life, and do not directly own them, then that begs an entirely different question.

Personally, I'm looking forward to when this issue starts getting heard in the courts and the Dumb Fucks in the Supreme Court continue their trend of selling out to big businesses and corporations by saying digital ownership reverts back to the original provider of content. That will be a big shock to the world and prove how awful the US truly is at this shit.

Sep 4, 2012

Spotify for the win....rent unlimited tracks for $5/month.

I listen to about 8 hours of music every day. If I tried to "buy" the amount if music I listen to I would be extremely poor.

Question, does Amazon Prime allow you to read any books like Spotify allows you to listen to any music? If so, that would be amazing.

Sep 4, 2012
WallStreetOasis.com:

Spotify for the win....rent unlimited tracks for $5/month.

This. Streaming media is the future.

Sep 5, 2012
WallStreetOasis.com:

Spotify for the win....rent unlimited tracks for $5/month.

I just recently discovered the joys of Spotify premium. After a negligible monthly fee you can build a library of unlimited songs and playlists. I was even more surprised that you had the "make available offline" option for as many songs as your phone can hold; absolutely genius.

I was taught that the human brain was the crowning glory of evolution so far, but I think it's a very poor scheme for survival.

Sep 4, 2012

I genuinely struggle to see why people still buy stuff considering the combination of Spotify / Pandora, SmartTVs and Netflix.

The other day I had to spend a PS30 iTunes voucher which was a very hard thing to do. Prices to actually buy stuff nowadays are so high - I was looked at something in the region of PS25-30 for a reasonably recent TV series box set, not even in HD. Why on earth would I ever do this when I can see it free of charge for PS6 a month from Netflix?

WallStreetOasis.com:

Spotify for the win....rent unlimited tracks for $5/month.

I listen to about 8 hours of music every day. If I tried to "buy" the amount if music I listen to I would be extremely poor.

Question, does Amazon Prime allow you to read any books like Spotify allows you to listen to any music? If so, that would be amazing.

It's not as great as it sounds - if you download a new book you will lose the old one (i.e. only 1 at a time) and you can only read them on Kindles, not other tablets with a Kindle App.

Sep 4, 2012

I really hope this starts an enormous fight about how your digital music library affects the amount you have to pay in estate taxes. That would be awesome.

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford

Sep 4, 2012

Aaaaand this is why I still buy physical albums only. :)

Metal. Music. Life. www.headofmetal.com

Sep 4, 2012

vinyl for the win.

Sep 6, 2012

Most people don't even know the music isn't theirs. So Bruce Willis or whoever dies, daughter gets the Ipod and listens to it all she wants. What's Apple gonna do?

And whatever Apple can do, it won't work in many markets - in half the world people will just hack the Iphone and get music from free as much as they want, including whatever isn't on the Appstore - or just buy Android stuff for half the price without those crazy rules.

I got impressed by the thousand Kindle books comments though. Did you read most of them? Is it mostly finance stuff? It seems I still have a long way to go

Sep 6, 2012
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