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Media Ownership in the 21st Century

Image of music CD with locks on it.

Media ownership in the 21st century is a trickier concept than ever before. In light of the growing percentage of our books, music, movies, and software that is purely digital, that is to say, downloaded directly from the Internet, how is ownership defined? When music came on CDs and other physical formats, it was pretty easy to say, “This is my CD. I bought it. I do with it as I please.” Of course, the recording industry would disagree, to the extent that while you might have purchased the medium, you only licensed the media. Now that the medium is largely ephemeral, so too is ownership. Add onto that digital rights management (DRM) that locks down and controls what you do with your “licensed” goods and ownership becomes a ghost of its former self. But do we really care?

Ownership confusion has become state-of-the-art in the entertainment industries. And while music might have freed itself of the shackles of digital rights management on download-to-“own” services like iTunes and Amazon, the whole ownership issue is still very much up in the air and will probably only come back down after all the lights go out. From my perspective, this should bother people a whole lot more than it does. Heck, it should bother me a whole lot more than it does. 
 
But we stand for these pesky legal uncertainties in trade for the sheer convenience of it all, not to mention the distinct drop in price that has accompanied the digital transition of entertainment media. I think (rationalize) to myself, "So long as the record labels don’t come after me for streaming the music I’ve purchased rights to access from anywhere I choose, be it my own home media server or a service like MP3tunes.com or Amazon Cloud Drive, I'm okay with it all."  So far they’re not – on the whole, the labels seem to have learned that it’s smart to chase the enablers rather than the enabled and thus try to shut the services down. 
 
And so it goes.  And so we suffer.
 
Of course, consumers are largely unaware of all the legal hodgepodge that slowly chips away at their ownership rights and even those of us that are aware type with one hand and download with the other (guilty). It is hard for a tech-blog addict like myself to take an outsider’s view of the issues and realize that while the court battles and backroom deals must and will continue, consumers just want their entertainment. 
 
That’s why I’ve got a pocketful of locked-down kindle books, copy-protected iTunes videos, apps for streaming Netflix and Hulu videos that will never see permanent storage on any of my devices, and DRM-free Amazon.com MP3s. It’s a mixed bag, a nightmarish quagmire of digital ownership yuck. And though it frustrates me to no end and though I hate myself for it, I do so love it all. 
 
What about you? Does the lack of true ownership bother you? Checkout this survey on our Facebook page.