Digital Rights at the expense of your Personal Rights...

A few years ago, the media made a big fuss about Digital Rights Management. Not too long ago Apple attempted to sue several people for hacking or disassembling their iPhones. And now, the US government has made it illegal to unlock your cell phone to use with a different carrier.

Look closely, there's a pattern emerging.

The trend seems to indicate that the government is perfectly ok with private corporations dictating what you do with your property. For the sake of this argument, lets assume that you purchased all of your digital media and content fare and square, and that you are in good standing with your credit card company and or cellular service provider. Point is, you're not a cyber criminal and you've paid or arranged to pay for all of your gadgets. "Why does any of that matter?", you may be asking yourself. The reason any of that matters to my argument is that I'm trying to establish that you, the Consumer, legally own your device.

Let's not kid ourselves, the very heart of these issues is bound up in the definition of ownership.

According to US law, you can own a computer. You can own a licensed copy of software, as long as you don't violate the turns of that license. You can own any user data, documents, or unique files you generate on your computer. How do we know that you, an individual, can own any of these things? Because if any of these things get stolen, you, not the manufacture, are listed as the victim. If you choose to disgard or destroy them, nobody arrests you for vandalism or destruction of private property. Why? Because they are your property. Simple, huh? But apparently, to the government, mobile devices follow a different set of rules.

It's all well and good having Apple limit the software on their phones and tablets so that it would difficult to side load applications that Apple didn't approve of. We really shouldn't be surprised by this, Apple's recent history is filled with examples of their attempts at unprecedented levels of control over their products. And on the one hand, you can't really blame them. The real problem starts when they sell you the product.

Now, I'm pretty sure I own my cell phone. For one thing, mine is over a year old, so it's more then paid for. It still works well, even with an older version of Android. So what happens if I want to take it with me to a different carrier? Well as of yesterday, I'm pretty much screwed. My question here is, "What the #@*%$ do they care?". If I cancel my old contract and move to a new carrier, and that new carrier doesn't have to give me a phone, shouldn't that be a bonus? I outta get a discount! But that's not how this works. What's needed here is for consumers to complain to Carriers and for Manufacturers to realize that the whole "Exclusive Phone" thing is so over and that they're really only shooting themselves in the foot here.

As for companies locking devices so that they can dictate where you can get your apps and content, and there for, what you can and can't do with a device...Grow up! It's my phone! If I loose it, I have to pay to replace it. If it gets stolen, I have to report it to the police. If I break it, I'm the one whose out a phone. It's my device, as long as I don't use it to break another law, like remotely hacking someone else's computer, it's nobody's business but mine what I use it for or what software I run. The Carrier or Manufacturer doesn't have to warranty it if the software screws up my phone, but then again, I didn't have to buy their products now did I?

Now, Digital Rights Management has been a hot button issue for years. Many different solutions have been suggested and tried, none totally solve the problems of either consumer fears or content distributor's needs. The bottom line here is, do I own movies or music downloaded to my device. The answer really is no. Technically, you don't own the music in your CD collection either, but at least you own and have some legal claim to the CD it's written on. Same goes for DVDs and Blueray discs. So nobody can take them from you, unless you use them to break the law (like bootlegging a video for sale, or distributing it to the web). With purely digital media becoming more and more a part of our lives, this just isn't good enough. What good is "buying" an album or movie, if a year down the road, the content provider looses their license on that media, changes the terms of use, or god forbid, goes out of business. If Amazon goes out of business tomorrow (not likely, but lets say) what happens to my video collection or the albums I "bought" from them?

Basically what I'm getting at here is that, Lawmakers, Cell Phone Carriers, Content Providers and Manufacturers seem to think that they can still control YOUR mobile devices after you buy them. It's a childish attitude that has lead to clearly one sided legislation that only benefits the companies, but leaves the American consumer out in the cold. By fudging the definition of property they've opened the door to alot of scary possibilities and future where all-digital media and mobile device become more trouble then they are worth.

Does no one remember the DRM wars of just a few years back. When record companies tried putting coding into CDs to prevent people from ripping an album, even for purely personal use, what happened? CD sales plummeted and record companies lost millions in revenue, also sites like Napster and Limewire, which distributed media for free and often illegally, became the preferred way of getting music to you MP3 collection. Later, when Napster went legit, it had to contend with a new wave of DRM restricted MP3s. Even the mighty iTunes juggernaut had to relax it's restriction on media coding and device compatibility when it's sales took a hit. Anybody else notice that this was about the time when the DRM laws got changed? It just goes to show, if you want change in this country, threaten the bottom line of a few Fortune 500 companies and then stand back and watch how fast your elected officials back-peddle.

What I'm saying here, if I'm saying anything at all, is that we, the people, need to dictate how new technologies and media formats get implemented because when we leave it to the lawmakers and corporate entities, we're always going to get the short end of the proverbial stick. We need to bring an end to the days of big companies telling us, and our government, what we will want and what we can do with technology, and start demanding that they listen to what we do want, and indeed, need our technology to do for us in the 21st century. I don't know about any body else, but if pay for something then nobody gets to tell me what I can do with it. If I can smash it with a hammer, I should be able to put a freakin home made app on it! This is, last time I checked, the Land of the Free after all...

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