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How We Think About Buying Artistic Property

Buying books and movies and music used to be really straight forward: you went into a store, found the physical product on the shelves (usually in the wrong section), gave a teenager (usually me) some money, and went home to listen to your Victrola cylinder or read your penny-dreadful or do whatever we did back in the early 1800s before there was internet. We used to buy a thing that you could have and sell or pass around or do whatever you want with.

Now it’s way more complicated. You don’t have to go anywhere, you don’t have to search through bins trying to find rare import only albums from bands only you and eight of your friends have ever heard of, and you don’t even have to give anyone any money. Now, when we buy a book or an album or a game, we’re buying access, the ability to view or hear or interact with someone else’s property.

This is really a huge change and requires an entirely different way of thinking about Artistic Property. When you’re buying a thing, that thing is yours, for as long as you want it. You can do whatever you want with it, you can lend it to your friend, you can sell it, or burn it for warmth. It’s yours, no one can tell you what to do with it.

Then CDs and computers (and connections speeds that weren’t counted in bauds. Just trust me, you don’t want to count anything in bauds) came along and people (teenagers) had access to the entire world. I could connect to a network and access the music of everyone who was on that network and I could download a CD in minutes. This was way better than spending $20 for an 11 track CD at some record store. Especially if you only wanted 1 or 2 songs.  Ad if it was okay for me to lend a CD to my friend, why wasn’t it okay to share it with a network of my friends, or just an entire network. The basic concept was the same, but the scale was incredibly different.

That scale is what really got to music companies. And they decided to change the game. They decided that now, when you were buying an album, you weren’t buying a thing that was yours to own and to do with what you wanted, now you were buying access to the album and that they could decide the terms and conditions of how you used that thing you bought (which wasn’t a thing anymore, it was just an access platform).

So the first thing they did was slap all sorts of DRM (a sort of security system for artistic property) onto everything. This meant that you couldn’t do things like take music that was on a CD and rip it onto your computer. The logic was that you didn’t pay for access to that CD in whatever fashion you wanted, you paid for access to the music on the CD only.

This led to a long fight between artistic property sellers (not usually artistic property creators, who have all sorts of varying opinions on this) and the world (again, mostly teenagers). And that’s a fight that teenagers always win. Cause they have a lot of time on their hands. So we’ve reached a sort of détente where purchasing something is about purchasing access instead of buying a physical thing, and eventually we’ll end in a world where we think of albums and books and video games as things we buy access to instead of things we buy copies of.