Tuesday, 28 February 2012

You paid to download it, so do you own it?


Paul Sweazey on the crucial difference between owning copyrighted material and licensing it. 

Paul will be presenting on this at Consumers International's global conference Consumers in the Information Society: Access, Fairness and Representation, 8-9 March, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.



Is Resale the key to Consumer Ownership?
If you can't resell it, you don't own it; if you can, then you do. That seems to be the message from US Federal Court Rulings over the past two years in a case called "Vernor v. Autodesk". 

After an initial ruling and an appeal that overturned it, the implication was that buying to own required three things: 
(1) only pay once
(2) possession doesn't expire, and
(3) the license doesn't forbid resale. 

This was just one case in one jurisdiction (the US), but it is clear that legal minds are grappling with the difference between licensing and owning, and with the equivalence of ownership and the right to resell.

Consumer voice should help define ownership
If consumers are to have the right to own the movies, music, books, and games that they buy and download, then shouldn't consumer advocates be involved in defining ownership, drafting the boilerplate license agreements, and specifying the attributes of digital personal property? Should you be waiting for Hollywood, or the music labels, or book publishers to do these things without you?

A2K conference
I'm going to be speaking at the upcoming global conference, Consumers in the Information Society: Access, Fairness and Representation organised by the A2K Network. I'll speak about a technological middle ground called the IEEE P1817 Standard for Consumer-ownable Digital Personal Property. The standard will define the technology by which a movie, song, book, or game can be made both copyright-respectful and consumer-ownable. During the talk I will describe the concerns of groups such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) over P1817, but I hope you won't be disappointed when I fail to demonise either side. 

There are certain baselines that neither side should compromise, and those baselines are strictly honored by the Digital Personal Property (DPP) standard:
  • Suppliers (copyright holders) will never stop defending their right to control public distribution (the essence of IP ownership).
  • Consumers will never stop claiming their right to unfettered and unmonitored private usage, sharing, customisation, and exchange of what they buy (the essence of personal ownership).
  • Both will defend their baseline rights whether the product is physical (shippable) or downloadable (electronically deliverable).
If your goal is to find a peace that nurtures both global commerce and individual freedom, then you should pay close attention to what you'll hear at the conference. We will discuss some revolutionary ideas — ideas so new that almost no one has heard of them, and ideas so obvious that it took a digital revolution to make us forget them.

Ownership an illusion
We are all witnessing a trend toward online services and away from the sale of digital content. This trend raises critical questions: Is it in the interest of consumers that their only choice for digital products is to subscribe to a service? Is it no longer important for consumers to have the option of full privacy and autonomy in their access to copyrighted works? Is it right for IP ownership to be enduring and consumer ownership to be an illusion? If you don't want this state to solidify as the future norm, then you had better define what consumer ownership is, and you had better provide the legal and technological means for it to exist. Let's discuss how.

I look forward to a lively discussion in Kuala Lumpur.

Paul Sweazey is Chair of the IEEE's standards committee for Digital Personal Property.

1 comment:

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