I’ve been thinking about what it means to own something. The definition that resonated the most with me is this1:

You own what you can pass down

It used to be common decades ago for people to pass down their property including media (vinyl records, disks, cassettes). You paid for hard assets that you owned.

Objectively, it’s easier to hold on to, and pass down, digital assets - you just have to change the “ownership” field in a database, or hand over a hard drive.

Instead, we got Digital Rights Management. DRM comprises of tools to lock down who has access to content, where it can be accessed, and for how long.

Simply put, if you buy an album on iTunes, it’s DRM protected. You cannot watch it on an Android device. Legally, you can’t even share it with your partner or family.

If you buy an ebook on Amazon, you merely get a license to read it. If Amazon decides they don’t like you as a customer and delete your account, you lose your book. Or, if your Kindle dies, you can’t just open the book on your computer or phone.

Using DRM, media companies can prosecute anyone that trying to transfer a Blu-Ray movie to their own computer.

That’s not ownership. In the digital age, we merely borrow when we “buy”.

To me, I only own media if:

  • I can store it on any device I own
  • I can transfer it freely between devices I own
  • I can consume it through any device2
  • The seller cannot take it away from me
  • I can transfer ownership freely

Based on that criteria, the following are not ownership:

  • Netflix, Spotify, Pandora (is that still a thing) etc
  • iTunes
  • Kindle books
  • Blu-Ray disks (and some DVDs)
  • Gaming console disks, or digital games (Steam)

The only media marketplace I use that meets that criteria is Bandcamp where you buy music directly from artists and get to download it.

Nada Surf is an awesome alt-rock band!

I prefer straight up MP3 files. That’s what doing digital media the right way looks like.

Don’t get me wrong. For creators piracy is a big problem. Some common reasons for piracy and illegal media sharing are:

  • Not available in consumers’ region
  • Delayed release in consumers’ region
  • Not convenient to purchase
  • Not convenient to consume the media (DRM)

However, DRM is not a solution. It’s a duct tape on a crumbling building.

I do recognize that creators have bills and should be paid fairly for their work. I will continue to pay for my media (that’s both “bought” and bought) as well support creators directly (Patreon etc).

1: I did not come up with this, but I also can’t find out where I read/watched/listened this idea. If you do, let me know.

2: I don’t necessarily mean that if the latest video or audio codec is not supported on Android for example, then the media encoded in that codec breaks my criterion. However the codec spec must be open and not proprietary for alternative implementations.