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Who Owns Your Content? [draft]

Michael H. Suo's picture

Who owns your content? Is it you or the copyright holder? If it isn't you, then why did you pay for it? All these questions are at the heart of the current war for the rights to music, movies, and everything in between.

The first shots of this war were fired with the start of the digital age. Before, the best you could was make physical copies of media. Technically possible, yes, but the equipment and manpower needed to run an operation on a scale large enough to threaten publishers was nearly impossible to obtain without being noticed.

Advocates of DRM say that the digital age is the first time in human history where content can be transferred, duplicated, and manipulated with only the click of a mouse. They argue that the creators of content should have absolute power over it, which was the underlying argument for copyright laws in the first place.

On the other hand, those critical of DRM, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, say that the entire technology is based around limiting and hurting the user, which should not be tolerated. Indeed, some DRM schemes go so far as to install unremovable, concealed software that changes the way operating systems function, opening hundreds of potential security holes (see the Sony BMG scandal). Some setups, like the Windows Media DRM, only work with one operating system, so in this case, only Windows users have compatible software.

Even situations which might seem ludicrous occur regularly: having a book which is only readable on authorized devices and only for a limited time (some dental schools require students to buy textbooks like these, some of which aren't even available in paper form), recording a TV show only to have it deleted automatically after a certain time (TiVo 7.2's copy protection), or only being able to play music on one kind of device (iTunes store). On top of all that, most content providers reserve the right to alter their DRM without cause or notice.

In short, the war over whether the consumer or the copyright holder owns the content is far from being over, and all we can hope for is for the protection schemes not to go too far.



Zhigang Suo's picture

You can download the book on copyright for free. Lessig is a law professor at Stanford and the Chair of the Creative Commons Project. (You may have noticed the copyright statement at the bottom of iMechanica.) The customer reviews on Amazon is very favorable. Here is a list of reviews on I'm still working through his first book, Code, and am looking forward to reading Free Culture.

Whatever future lies, it doesn't hurt to understand what historical forces bring us here, and what the future possibilities have been created by new technologies. Perhaps we can even shape the future on the basis of knowledge and good judgment.

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