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The Battle Over Digital Content - Who Owns It?

Bruce Willis I assume that you've heard the Big News this weekend; Bruce Willis is bringing a lawsuit against Apple for ownership of his music collection.  According to the terms of service, Apple retains ownership on everything and purchasing a song on iTunes merely allows the purchaser listening rights.

When I read about this, my first thought was, "Woohoo!  Go Bruce Willis!", because we need someone with the clout and the money to start the fight.  My second thought was about how much time and money I've put into buying digital content - books and music mostly - and wondering if I own the things I assume I own. Instead of worrying, I checked.

The answer saddens me.  According to the website, books and games sold for the Kindle do not belong to me because, and I quote, "Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider."  Basically, all the books on my Kindle that I assumed I own I don't really own.  They are merely "licensed " to me.

As for the music, I searched through several pages, and I think that I actually own the music.  Yeah, I think.

As for Barnes and Noble, I don't own a Nook, but I check out their website.  I could not find a clear answer, so I chatted with them.  Nook books are also "licensed for use" and not purchased.

Okay, I understand that people need to read the terms of service, but do you know how much time I put into  merely finding the terms of service for these sellers?  As for reading them, iTunes has multiple terms of service per country; Amazon has separate terms of service for each of their digital content offerings; I'm not even certain how many terms of service exist for Barnes and Noble since I read through a few before giving up and going the chat route to find my answer.

And it feels as though all three content providers are attempting to trick the buyers, because on all three websites to get this "licensed" content you press a button labeled "Buy" - even though you are not buying anything, unless you want to word smith their use of buy into license.  I can do that, but I still think it's wrong.

Am I the only one worried about this?  Or do you want to be able to buy and own books, regardless of format?


  1. That's really interesting, and, unfortunately, not something I'd thought about until you brought it up. For me, unless they (Amazon, B&N, etc) revoke my right to read/highlight the e-books I bought the license to anytime I want to, I'd have to say that it doesn't bother me that I don't "own" them. I'm happy to not have to find more space to house real books and to have to dust them and eventually get rid of them when I'm done forever with them.

    At least that's my current stance, but that could change given the right reasons. :)


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