What’s Mine is Yours… unless it is digital.

What does it mean to buy something? One is able to go to a grocery store, purchase some food, bring it home, prepare it, and ultimately, consume it. That food, once giving the teller your money, is yours to eat, play with or let sit in your refrigerator until it is past its expiration date. What about when you buy something that is created by someone else? Like, a CD (what the hell is a CD?) for example. To answer your question, we look at Congress in 1992 in passing the Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA) (P.L. 102-563, 106 Stat. 4237, codified at 17 U.S.C. 1001 – 1010), this act would lead you to believe that non-commercial duplicates fall under the fair use clause—although it hasn’t been tested in court. Many labels, however, indicate that their music CDs cannot be duplicated, even if you want to have one copy in your house and one copy in your car. In fact, if you buy that CD and want to sell it at a yard sale, can you?

Today, however, we are posed with a similar but more complex question about media ownership in the digital age. Especially, when traditional media (compact disks, DVDs, and now, books) are now offering non-physical copies for consumers to “buy.” One of the newest craves is “buying” books via Amazon.com to download and read on their digital reader, the Kindle. According to their license agreement (an annotated version can be read here) it appears that we are not actually buying the book, but instead “taking a license to a limited set of uses” (according to Cory Doctorow’s article, Even Amazon can’t keep its EULA story straight).

As my previous article, Down with Physical Media!, mentions digital media is becoming increasingly the norm. In fact, this week, Nintendo announced that their entertainment system, Wii, (which sold over 3-million units in December 2009) would now offer an integration with Netflix to allow a user to watch their Netflix rentals through their Nintendo Wii.

Now, personally, I am OCD. I enjoy having bookshelves neatly filled—sometimes sub-sorted by the spine’s color pallet. But I am intrigued by the idea of having everything digitized so that I could watch a movie on any TV just by linking it to my computer or to an on-line video rental service. I have no problem having someone else maintain my collection, so long as I have access to it whenever I want and do not need to pay any more than I would have to in “owning” a physical copy. My fear? That by losing absolute control of the media, there could be glitches that would require me to re-purchase, not have the files on demand, or be forced into “upgrading” for better quality (much like Apple did with the DRM free music).

Do we own the content? No. But is it accessible? Yes. Does this format enable other users to interact, recommend, and share similar interests? Yes. Pros outweigh the cons? I think so—so far.