On learning that Apple can violate my digital rights any time they want.
There’s an old joke about bicycles: that we don’t really own them, we just rent them from the thieves.
This somehow summons the truth about homeownership: that we don’t really own homes either, we just share them with the bank.
Qualified ownership even applies to clothing and furnishing. We believe we own these, but any time it wants to, the fashion world can declare them obsolete and render them worthless.
This does nothing to dim our sense of ownership. We are outraged at the theft of a bicycle. We would be astonished to find bank executives having lunch on our patio, (“actually, if you read the contract, you will see we own this part of your house-the whole yard actually. Hank’s gone to get his barbeque.) We would be unhappy to get a note from J. Crew telling us that the expiry date for your new shoes has been moved forward and that we must cease and desist in their public display. No, as we understand and feel it, we own these things as if ownership were outright and in perpetuity.
Ownership has this quality in part because the things we own are part of what Goffman would call our identity kit–they help define who we are, both inwardly and outwardly. Strip us of these things, and our lives become, as Lear put it, “cheap as beasts. Naturally, we regard the most ‘telling of our possessions as if they were strategic resources and we defend them as governments do. Our security depends on their security.
Generally, the market place understands this about us. In a depreciating world, it sells us things we should lease. It leases things we should rent. And it rents us things we could borrow. It “gets the power of ownership and makes us pay for it.
But not the digital industry. Apple gives us qualified access to the songs we download from iTunes. Realtunes gives us access only so long as we pay a monthly fee. Apple can actually change our rights to songs retroactively.
Of all the identity suppliers, music is the most potent, more than homes, more than clothes, and, yes, more than bicycles. We may not need to own our music outright, and indeed as our tastes expand and our library grows, outsourcing the task of choosing, storing, managing, and delivering music makes more and more sense. But we will never cease to think of our music as our music, as something we must own.
It is clear why Apple instituted Digital Rights Management. It was trying to recruit content suppliers still traumatized by Napster and the great give-away. But I thought the war was won. iTunes road in like St. George. It killed the dragon and brought recording labels from the verge of irrelevance and bankruptcy. Isn’t this the time to extract a reward from grateful villagers? More to the point, Apple created a new channel that rivals retail ones. Does Warner Brothers have a choice here? Can they compete without a digital play? I think we would all like to be there when WB executives tell the Board why WB has now “gone dark in digital distribution channels. In sum, Apple no longer needs to supply DRM to get the supplier to play. The supplier has no reasonable choice.
Think back, way back, to that afternoon when your mother asked if you could share your music with your little sister. This is the kind of thing that persuades a 13 year old that parents are certifiably insane and possibly extraterrestrial. This music could NOT be shared with our idiot sibling because it had been the object of our devoted attention, working its way out of the grove through the air into consciousness with such power and completion that some part of the artist was now some part of the fan. No, we won’t want to share our “music with our sister. Not Apple, either. Dear M. Jobs, they’re not iTunes, they’re our tunes.
Wingfield, Nick. 2004. The New Digital Media: You Might Have It, But Not Really Own It. Wall Street Journal. August 16, 2004, p. B1.