Consumer-ownable Downloads

The following is page 1 of a 7-page paper entitled, "Toward Consumer-ownable Digital Personal Property".

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The IEEE P1817 Working Group is creating a Standard for Consumer-ownable Digital Personal Property. Our mission is to enable people to actually own the movies, music, books, and games that they buy and download. If you thought that you already do own your downloads, then you’re not alone; most people think this. We are going to help make it true.

The Unwinnable and Unnecessary War

Someday we will look back on this time in utter amazement. We will wonder that there once was a time when we couldn’t own the downloaded digital movies, music, books, and games that we bought, when law couldn’t even define what consumer ownership meant, when suppliers claimed the moral right to restrict private behavior, when people claimed the moral right to post copyrighted works on the Internet, and when we had so blurred the line between products and services that we couldn’t remember that products are inherently ownable and services are inherently not.

To the benefit of all mankind, money has gone digital without denying consumers their rights.

Digital products should be no different.

Imagine what electronic consumer banking would look like if people didn’t “own” the money in their bank accounts. What if employers could dictate with whom and for what you could spend your direct-deposit paycheck? What if vendors could refuse to accept your electronic payment based on the bank that held it or the circumstances under which the money was deposited? What if employers or product vendors were to require that you use only the bank account provided by them, with all of your bank transaction records visible to them?

What if people were to respond by declaring that “all bits are free”, and that once money is converted from physical bills and coins into digital bits it is their right to replicate them at will and distribute the resulting wealth to anyone they choose?

Consider how ludicrous is it so claim, when money takes a purely electronic, digital form, that all of the principles and rules protecting the rights of individuals and the viability of commerce must be rewritten. How silly it would be to pretend that digital monetary systems cannot be made secure enough to preserve the fairness, privacy, and freedom that fueled all pre-digital economies?

And yet, here we are at the dawn of the Digital Millennium, waging an unwinnable and unnecessary war between consumer rights and copyright, without having created consumer-ownable digital personal property – the foundation that could bring sanity and peace to the great battle. The building-block technologies have already been invented. We need only assemble the components of ownable digital products and make them available to consumers. Watch the sanity settle in.

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