Consumers Buy, Media Companies License

Frank Catalano sent me a link to this essay he wrote about how Apple may come out on top in part because they offer a music sale and download, not a music subscription.But this underlies a more fundamental problem. The media companies (record, film, video, and print) don't view media in the same way as consumers or individuals. The goal of media companies in a digital age is to license media, not sell it. This guarantees them perpetual upgrade money when technologies become obsolete. When you switched from analog VHS tapes to digital DVDs, you didn't regret quite as much the cost of upgrading because you got an eternally unchanging (more or less) copy. But your DVD is perfect. When the next format arrives, will you be able to make a digital copy of the DVD you own into the new format? No. The companies already prevent this through copy protection which in turn is protected by one of the most unconstitutional laws since the Sedition Act: The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). Is Apple, thus, selling music? No. It's licensing it, but they say you own it. I asked Apple's VP Phil Schiller: if I own iTunes music that implies that I can then sell my songs to other people, right, since they manage the rights and I can deauthorize those songs on my machines? Hmm, he said, never thought of that. I asked if it was ownership if you couldn't sell it. Schiller said, "I do think of it as ownership, and it really does fit the definition of legal ownership." There are always "certain boundaries on your rights, just as on everything I own." For instance, "I can own a car but that doesn?t give me the right to speed 100 mph in it." Also, if you lose your downloaded files, even though Apple has external licensing systems that can tell where the files are played, they will not restore your missing files. They're gone. You have to repurchase them. That's not ownership; that's borrowing. Schiller's remarks are revealing in that he's equating uses unintended by a maker as potentially the same as criminal violations of the law. We can't drive 100 mph because it's not in the public interest, among other factors. If you drive 100 mph, you can have your license, your freedom, your money, and your car taken away. It's more like putting a governor on every car so that you can only drive the maximum speed limit in each zoned area. If you're on a highway that reads 60 mph, you can drive 60 mph maximum. (Even better, it's like some cars are set to 30 mph and some to 60 mph, regardless of zone.) You might try disabling the governor, but of course the auto companies would have a Digital Millenium Car Act that would put you in jail, just as if you had rolled back a speedometer. Perhaps its wise that I go the speed limit, but there are always circumstances that are outside the rigid parameters that those that attempt to constrain all acts, public and private, can envision. If I own 100 square miles of salt flats, I can drive as goddamn fast as I want. But I can't with a car with that putative governor, nor can I remove it. There must be a differentiation between the notion of illegal acts that harm society or oneself, and the expression of fair use rights that are well within statutory law and should not be brushed out of existence with the same Jack Valenti branded, RIAA themed paint roller that's trying to squash piracy. Piracy is the strawman; the right to transfer media under fair use law is the crux of the current debate.