When you take out a mobile phone contract, who owns the phone? When you buy digital books on your eBook reader, who owns the books? What about your digital music?
The days where you would purchase a physical item and and know that it was yours are over. The nature of service contracts, copyright law and cloud-based digital content has blurred the lines of ownership for ever more.
Take your phone for instance. At the end of your contract, you want to jump networks. Call up your phone provider, ask them to unlock it, and away you go. Right? Not necessarily.
In the US now the Digital Millenium Copyright Act has just been applied to phone unlocking (specifically an existing exemption has been repealed). That means it is no longer within your rights to use that device that you believed you had paid for and owned on another network.
The same law does not apply here, and even in the US it is unlikely any mobile phone operator is going to start suing consumers who unlock their phone. But it sets an unpleasant precedent. And governments around the world — including the UK — have shown themselves more than willing to apply bizarre and prejudicial terms through copyright legislation.
What about your eBooks? It turns out that you only licence what you ‘purchase’ from the Kindle store and others. You own nothing, as one Norwegian woman found out last year when she was accused of breaking Amazon’s rules and reportedly had her Kindle remotely wiped.
Music? The stories last year about Bruce Willis taking on Apple in a battle to leave his apparently huge iTunes library over to his kids were totally false. But the issue isn’t, as CNET explained here.
We own less and less. We are paying more and more for what are essentially services. Services that stop as soon as we stop paying. And the more things we have that are digital, connected, or subsidised, the fewer things we will own.