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Do you own what you bought?

by Bob Auger

Do you own all the discs in your collection? Be honest – aren’t there a few that you ‘borrowed’ from friends and haven’t yet got around to returning? What about those DVDs that you always meant to give back to the neighbour, but now she’s moved away…?

You can play discs, watch them, even copy them, without anyone stopping you. Of course it would be illegal, but is it really likely that the Serious Crime Squad is going to break down the door and confiscate your library of Bob the Builder DVDs because you made copies to give to the kids?

We are used to physical media ‘just working’, regardless of where it came from, how long you’ve had it and what technical standards it uses. Sure, CD-i players are hard to come by these days, but in the main, once acquired, most hardware lets you access the original content forever.

Imagine then that you put your disc in the trusty player you bought in 1994 and a message appears “You don’t have the rights to play this disc”. The player is right – you picked it up at that party you gatecrashed in the 1990s and ‘discovered’ it a week later.
Guiltily you try another disc, and another, and realise that all the discs in your collection, paid for or not, are blocked.

Not only that but all your friends are experiencing the same problem – none of their CDs or DVDs work anymore, every unit in the player park is revolting rather than revolving.

Wow, that was a nightmare you’d rather not have again. You wake in a sweat and make a coffee, grateful that this was only a bad dream. Selecting the Music Video you downloaded last week on your Media Centre PC, déjà vu spoils your view: “You do not have the rights to play this track.”

Another nightmare?

No, you purchased the video legitimately from Google and they have just abandoned all their customers and blocked the DRM – forever. You thought you owned it? Tough. You don’t. Just like you don’t own the PC operating system, the software you use every day, the firmware in your satellite box or rights to most of the other high-tech kit in your home. If someone decides to take it away from you, there is little you can do about it. You agreed to the license didn’t you?

The argument that “I paid for it, therefore I own it” is not accepted any more. If Microsoft decides you’ve updated your PC hardware one time too many, you’ll have to buy a new copy of Windows; the one you own is ‘not genuine’. If Apple decides to abandon the iPod (they wouldn’t, would they?) you could lose access to every track. Don’t believe me?

Talk to the customers of Google Video store , they didn’t believe it would ever happen either.

Oh, and Dave, I will let you have back that 45 rpm covermount flexidisc that came with the magazine Private Eye in the 1970s, honest. Just as soon as I’ve made a DRM-free MP3 copy…

Column Comments


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By Niran Huesing on August 13, 2010, 3:43 pm

Very well written Bob and definitely one of the major challenges for upcoming virtual rights locker ala DECE/UVVA. Another problem might be the "image" of DRM, a term to avoid. However, at the end of the day, if the consumer perception of Quality of Service os great, then the chances are great for content owners in this new, "controlled", world. Best, NH

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