Do You Own Anything Anymore?

Hand holding smartphone with closed padlock on display. GenericI was reading about the change to the exceptions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by the Librarian of Congress when it got me to thinking about the state of ownership in this country.  For those who aren’t aware yet, the DMCA prevents people from circumventing copy protection of any kind. Until October of 2012, the Librarian of Congress, who has the power to grant exceptions to this act, had provided an exception for unlocking your phone. Now that the exception is gone, people are not allowed to unlock their phones on their own to take them to another carrier. If their current mobile provider won’t unlock them and they want to move to another carrier, they would just have to buy another phone from the new provider or find an unlocked phone that they could use.

To me this state of affairs seems ludicrous. I understand that someone who has received a phone in exchange for a two year contract should’t be able to take their subsidized phone and go elsewhere without honoring the contract they signed. The issue to me though isn’t about unlocking, it’s about fulfilling the contract you signed. Even if you unlock your phone, you are responsible for the early termination fee or continued payment. That’s as far as I think that whole argument should go. Unless you stop paying your provider for service, you should be able to do as you wish with your phone. We should own digital goods the same way we own physical goods. If I buy a sword and choose to turn it into a plowshare, that’s my right. By the same token, I should be able to unlock my mobile device and use it however I so choose.

We’ve been in similar situations with all manner of digital goods. The RIAA would love to prevent us from ripping CDs. In fact, they tried to do so in the past. The ripping of DVDs with copy protection is illegal. There are so many reasons why this is wrong. The primary reason, in my estimation, is that it enforces limitations on how we use the things we “purchase” even after we have finished paying for them. That type of thinking is dangerous as we move farther into the digital age. It ends with us not owning the music, movies, games, books, etc that we buy. Pretty soon we won’t have ownership of anything and maybe I’m an old fuddy ruddy, but that’s just not acceptable to me.

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