The End of Ownership
Personal Property in the Digital Economy
- Honorable Mention, 2017 PROSE Awards, Law and Legal Studies
264 pp., 6 x 9 in, 6 b&w illus.
- Published: November 4, 2016
- Published: March 16, 2018
- Published: October 28, 2016
An argument for retaining the notion of personal property in the products we “buy” in the digital marketplace.
If you buy a book at the bookstore, you own it. You can take it home, scribble in the margins, put in on the shelf, lend it to a friend, sell it at a garage sale. But is the same thing true for the ebooks or other digital goods you buy? Retailers and copyright holders argue that you don't own those purchases, you merely license them. That means your ebook vendor can delete the book from your device without warning or explanation—as Amazon deleted Orwell's 1984 from the Kindles of surprised readers several years ago. These readers thought they owned their copies of 1984. Until, it turned out, they didn't. In The End of Ownership, Aaron Perzanowski and Jason Schultz explore how notions of ownership have shifted in the digital marketplace, and make an argument for the benefits of personal property.
Of course, ebooks, cloud storage, streaming, and other digital goods offer users convenience and flexibility. But, Perzanowski and Schultz warn, consumers should be aware of the tradeoffs involving user constraints, permanence, and privacy. The rights of private property are clear, but few people manage to read their end user agreements. Perzanowski and Schultz argue that introducing aspects of private property and ownership into the digital marketplace would offer both legal and economic benefits. But, most important, it would affirm our sense of self-direction and autonomy. If we own our purchases, we are free to make whatever lawful use of them we please. Technology need not constrain our freedom; it can also empower us.
The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding from Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.
By reading this blurb, you agree, irrevocably and in perpetuity, that this book is an excellent, enraging, eye-opening, essential overview of the way that 'intellectual property' has become a twenty-first century virus that lets the biggest corporations in the world strip you of your actual property rights. To opt-out, die.
Cory Doctorow, MIT Media Lab Activist-in-Residence, and author of Information Doesn't Want to Be Free
The 'end of ownership' might sound like hyperbole, but this important book explains that we are at risk of losing many benefits of ownership in the digital age. Digital works, whether software or sound recordings, are regulated by licenses and by copyright law in ways that conventional products have not been. All is not lost, however, as the authors explain how we can reclaim ownership as a fundamental norm of our society and extend it to our music, our software, our devices, and the Internet of Things.
Pamela Samuelson, Richard M. Sherman Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley, School of Law
The gradual erosion of ownership is a long-term threat to human freedom and our capacity for self-development. Like physical erosion, however, the changes are subtle and even invisible. This book makes clear the stakes and sounds an important warning.
Tim Wu, Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Columbia Law School, and author of The Master Switch
This book centers our attention on the central principle of information ownership—exhaustion of intellectual property rights—and zooms in on the core issues that should keep all of us awake at night, especially those committed to access, use, and dissemination of knowledge now and for generations to come. Not only is this an exceptionally clear explanation of the current digital ownership landscape—it is a call to action to all who can change it.
Mary Lee Kennedy, former Chief Library Officer, New York Public Library
Perzanowski and Schultz start off by providing a fine summary and analysis of both how clouds and content streaming work and the implications in terms of ownership and rights.... As the book shows quite beautifully... there is a perverse incentive for many of those involved to keep the whole story as obscure and unfathomable as possible. This analysis—detailed and impressive—shows how the combination of law and technology works against the users.
Times Higher Education
[Perzanowski and Schultz] are expert writers in distilling complicated topics and treating acronyms usually reserved for those in the legal community to be handled by interested laymen.... [I]t's important for consumers looking to make informed decisions to read The End of Ownership—not just for the legal and economic trivia you will inevitably pick up, but because of how relevant the book already is and, based on current trends, how even more relevant it will become.
This is a lively must-read account of how digital formats have led to an unprecedented transformation of property law. Perzanowski and Schultz are law professors who specialize in intellectual property, and they argue that consumers need to be aware of the tradeoffs that come with the so-called freedom of cloud storage and streaming services.
The End of Ownership presents the confusing world of the digital consumer in wonderfully accessible prose, replacing hideous jargon with the simplest of analogies, from thieving bookshops to the goblins from Harry Potter. It will answer the questions you have regarding digital ownership, and it's inevitable that more than a few of them have never even crossed your mind. In an increasingly complex world, plagued by unreadable (certainly unread) terms and conditions, it is more than a little refreshing to have something explained in good, plain English.
E & T: Engineering & Technology
Funding provided by: Arcadia Fund