Paying for digital products is no guarantee of owernship
Publish date: 10 April 2019
Issue Number: 1776
Diary: Legalbrief eLaw
The digital realm presents new threats to ownership which our physical possessions have not prepared us for. Cardiff University Marketing lecturer Rebecca Mardon says consumers need to become more sensitised to the restrictions placed on digital ownership of products like e-books and digital music. In an article on the Conversation site, she says consumers, who rarely read long legal agreements when making digital purchases, must be made aware that many of these products are subject to end-user licence agreements which set out a more complex distribution of ownership rights. She says the popularity of access-based consumption has obscured the rise of a range of fragmented ownership configurations in the digital realm. 'These provide the customer with an illusion of ownership while restricting their ownership rights. Companies such as Microsoft and Apple present consumers with the option to "buy" digital products such as e-books. Consumers often make the understandable assumption that they will have full ownership rights over the products that they pay for, just as they have full ownership rights over the physical books that they buy from their local bookstore. Just last month, social media site MySpace admitted to losing all content uploaded before 2016. Blaming a faulty server migration, the loss includes many years' worth of music, photos and videos created by consumers. Last year, after customers complained of films disappearing from Apple iTunes, the company revealed that the only way to guarantee continued access was to download a local copy, which, some opined, goes against the convenience of streaming. Amazon hit the headlines way back in 2009 for remotely erasing "illegally uploaded" copies of George Orwell's 1984 from consumers' Kindle e-reading devices.' However, she says often there is a logical business reason for such restrictions, such as the need to prevent duplication and protect copyright. But these restrictions must be stated clearly and in simple terms at the point of purchase, rather than hidden away in the complex legal jargon of end-user licence agreements, obscured by the familiar terminology of 'buying', she says.