Consumers are frustrated. As innovations lead us to newer, better, faster, more powerful products and services, we keep finding a disparity between our purchase of those products and services and the rights we have to them.
Google and Amazon both recently announced online music “lockers” that allow consumers to upload music – that they have legally purchased – for backup purposes and to stream via a web browser or mobile app. But the music labels think they should be paid to allow this type of service. As a result, the consumer experience is sacrificed as the services require you to physically upload your copy of the song to your locker (and uploading a lot of songs can take hours). Even if you purchased the song from Amazon, so they know you legally own it, you still need to upload it to your Amazon Cloud Drive. Even with those provisions, the music companies still want to fight the legality of the service.
Of course consumers are irate – how could you not be? I bought the song – paid for it with my own cash – so why are you Mr. Music Company now trying to regulate how and where I can play that song? The music industry will say that it’s all about piracy, and protecting against file sharing, but the reality is it’s just old-fashioned greed. Instead of making consumers happy, they see the convenience of new devices and services as another potential revenue source, and therefore want to change the simple concept of “I bought it and I own it” to “I bought it but I can’t do A, B, or C with it”.
And they’re not alone. Here are some other companies/industries that have invented their own definition of “ownership”.
- Movies: I pay $20 or more for a movie DVD, but its encrypted and illegal for me to make a copy of it, even if it’s for my own backup purposes (because DVDs can easily get ruined) or because I want to store the movies I purchased on my home network to stream to my various TVs and computers. Why should I not be allowed to do this?
- iPhone: I bought an iPhone for $400, yet I’m not allowed to install anything I want to it – I would need to “jailbreak” it in order to have complete control, and that voids the warranty and risks future operability. Apple even goes so far as to change the screws on the phone to ones that make it harder for me to open! I bought the phone – why should I not be allowed to do whatever I want with it?
- Magazines: I subscribe to print versions of magazines, yet if I want the iPad version of those magazines I need to pay again? (This is changing, albeit slowly).
- Mobile Internet: I pay $30/month for a 2GB mobile dataplan for my phone, yet I’m not allowed to tether it to my computer to use as a modem. I’m paying for up to 2GB per month – why is that restricted to just mobile browsing?
- eBooks: I recently bought several Kindle books including “Influence”. I can read all the other books on the Kindle iPhone app, but not Influence – it’s “not available on Kindle for iPhone”. I paid for the ebook – why is the Publisher trying to restrict where I can and can’t read it?
- Cable TV: Time Warner’s iPad app is designed to allow you to stream your cable channels to your iPad while you are on your home wi-fi network. The content producers including Viacom have sent cease-and-desist letters to prevent their channels from streaming to the app. I’m paying $100/month for a set of channels delivered to my TV – why can’t I also watch those on my iPad in the same room?
In every one of these cases I’ve paid for something – a movie, a phone, a magazine, a dataplan, an ebook, a cable service – and the providers are purposely restricting my ability to use it. You could try to cut the providers a break and say that they just aren’t able to keep up with the fast pace of technical changes and are trying to protect themselves, but the reality is that they are all trying to redefine “ownership” by reducing our rights wherever possible, in order to determine how they might be able to make even more money from us.
I’d appreciate going to back to the old definition – I bought it, now I own it.
Rocco Tarasi was an accountant, investment banker, and CFO before becoming a technology entrepreneur. He is @RoccoTarasi on Twitter.