digital war       In every war there are casualties.  Even in digital wars.  Betamax, DVD, Laser Disc, Mini-disk, and Zip disk, are all examples of casualties of digital wars.  Even though these mediums are still in use on some level they are known to have lost their respective conflicts with newer technologies.  Despite these massive upheavals, the impact of these wars on the general population have been relatively mild.  In the case of Laser Disc and Mini-Disk, they never achieved a wide enough audience to be too monetarily detrimental to the "civilian" population.  But there is a trend now, of evergrowing early adopters of technology.  Part of this has to do with people growing frustrated with the increasing complexity of the factors (rules) governing these technological conflicts.  It also has to do with the seemingly arbitrary nature of the conflicts themselves.  But this post does not concern itself, simply, with technological factors.  In the last 15 years a few digital titans have arisen from the scores of tech companies as forces to be reckoned with, technologically and legally.  And recent trends include "cloud" services and proprietary ecosystems.

        Let's be clear about something.  There is no such thing as "The Cloud".  There is no new technology that enables storage or streaming that didn't enable it before.  There is no new network structure or schema that warrants an entirely new nomenclature for what it is.  The cloud is a collection of servers that essentially allows individuals to access and store their data on demand.  The only major change the cloud offers is what level of control these services maintain over their client base.  When you purchase something from a large web retailer and elect to store that purchase on their associated cloud services, you aren't actually purchasing it.  You are licensing it.  That's correct, you don't OWN what you have effectively purchased.

        There was a time when you purchased a CD or a DVD and you owned that media for you own viewing and listening pleasure, at your own discretion.  We believe we are buying convenience when we purchase books, and music and then storing it on the servers of the companies which we purchase the use of these goods from.  It would have still been an infringement of intellectual property for you to copy the CD or DVD you bought, but it would not have been an infringement to loan it to a friend or even give it away as a gift.  But the fact remains that it would have been yours, and now the limited rights you would have been entitled to as a purchaser are now in jeopardy.  Gizmodo recently reported that a man who travelled to Singapore recently lost access to ALL of his e-books, that he purchased on Amazon.  While obtaining an update to the various software on his tablet Amazon evidently scanned his device and disabled access to his downloaded content.  A message was displayed telling the man that those services were not authorized for use in that particular location.

        Wait.  Are we to believe that Amazon can actually dictate to an individual where he can access his content from based on geographic location?  Yup.  Granted, there is a degree of privacy that we are all willing to forgo in exchange for such diversions as Facebook.  But we are actively participating in those platforms without that understanding in mind.  Whereas platforms like Google Play decide for us, with little more than a notice in the fine print of the terms of service.  What they are doing essentially, is upending your luggage upon arrival in a country and confiscating your books.  Now a reasonable person might understand the challenges of protecting intellectual property, especially of the digital variant, from being illegally distributed but isn't removing content from your mobile device going a bit far?  Essentially we are allowing large corporations to do to us what we become indignant about when the Federal government even mentions.  Despite recent events about government surveillance coming to light we appear not to mind intrusions of even greater magnitude.  Given our willingness to hand our data over to large corporations and their willingness to hand that data over to the government, is anyone surprised at that turn of events?  This idea is not directly pertinent but I will shortly make the association.

        Tech companies aren't in the business of selling services.  They aren't in the business of selling anything.  They are in the business of providing a lifestyle.  Pursuant to that, they have all constructed ecosystems that they want you to live in, a lifestyle they want you to subscribe to.  And we, the consumers, are more than happy to live inside of these tech-utopias, blithely grazing on apps and functionality.  We don't consider the potential future impact of volunteering to live in these ecosystems, or more importantly, insisting on having a say in how they are constructed and administered.  What is the point of being staunch advocates of freedom and democracy when we abdicate our most sacred rights so that we can have an iPhone?  More to the point these corporations appear to be relying more on controlling your digital rights than they are on simply providing better products than the other guy.  This is a trend throughout the market place, where innovation stagnates behind the ramparts of greed and gain.

       The final point I want to make regarding this phenomena is the fact that this represents another layer between creators and consumers.  Technically Google Play Books doesn't own the media they are licensing.  In this case, books.  The author, contractually allows a publisher to sell the book in whatever medium suitable to sales and in common use.  But shouldn't the author have some say in how the media is sold?  More importantly shouldn't the author have some say in how the consumer is treated once he has purchased the book?  An author would never show up for a book signing and punch an avid fan in the face.  A more analogous situation would be that an author wouldn't attempt to prevent a fan from crossing national borders with his book.  Granted, this is logistically a ludicrous proposition.  But even if they could, I don't think authors would subscribe to such strong arm tactics.  I think their concern as an author, and even a human being, would be getting the most readers no matter where they happen to be, not preserving their digital property rights. 

     Which is not to say that piracy and theft isn't a problem, but a comparatively minor problem when compared to having a large corporation tell you when and where you can read that author's work.  There is something fundamentally wrong when a corporation can tell a consumer when and where they can access content they have paid for, but the consumer has no say in who their information is given to.  Perhaps it is time that digitial rights contracts protected both parties.  As it stands right now the only casualties of these digital wars are the rights of the individuals who subscribe to the services.  I think it is safe to say that the next person to be lined up against the bulkhead of digital media, and shot, is going to be the artist.




About the author
J. Austin Yoshino
Author: J. Austin Yoshino
That's what I do; I read and I know things.
Other articles by this author