Does ownership mean anything in the digital age?

A buzzword that makes gun lobbyists and owners alike shake with anticipation is “protection”. There’s an ingrained idea in our heads that there is nothing more innocent and natural than a hard-working man protecting his property, protecting his house –protecting his stuff.

While this “common-sense” grand narrative might automate the response that ‘a citizen needs a gun to protect their homestead’, the greatest threat to individual property rights and ownership, as an institution, is ironically, the vendors.

Incidentally, the homeowner’s snubnose will do no good against the tech corporations and media industries as they encroach and impose further and further beyond the limitations of a reasonable contractual transaction. Specifically, the prevalence of Digital Rights Management (DRM) looks to be the largest forfeiture of the consumer’s rights.

As less and less things physically exist in the world, more hours of entertainment, bites of information and virtual forms of media are created and sold than ever before. These are the products that are subject to egregious levels of corporate control, legally.

Those who play video games, specifically on the PC, are already well versed with the adversary of freedom, the DRM. Software company Ubisoft is one of the worst offenders in this realm, as they sell full priced games to players, but don’t allow players to access thegame except when connected to the internet, and through Ubisoft’s “UPlay” service.

Those who play Nintendo games are also victims of viscous DRM interventions, as Nintendo has restricted Youtube video-makers from uploading playthroughs or content of their games, without first entering into a profit-sharing agreement. This makes sense, even minutely, only in the digital context; imaging drawing a picture with a pen, only to have BIC tell you that your artwork now belongs to them.

In a more universal example, many DVD and Blu-Ray producers implement a structure on their disks to stop movie-watchers from skipping previews or advertisements that play before the movie: this too is DRM.

Of course, most of ownership is an illusion. For an example, the eminent domain legislation empowers the Federal Government to seize privately held land in the name of public progress and urban development.

The digital age of streaming, online rentals, digital content, and i-possessions seem to be the perfect storm of consumerism, but, like in all grand narratives, there are many contradictions. Consumerism, tells us that possession and collection is the most important factor in achieving happiness, yet the digital age also tells us that physical possession is superfluous. While our neoliberal society quickly dismisses these contradictions, the trend of the digitization of consumerism is likely not going to stop.

With constant connection and more programming safeguards than ever in place to dictate not only what the consumer enjoys, but how, and when as well; prepare to feel sweaty, corporate palms around your television, laptop or gaming system, more often in upcoming years, as your collections of possessions dwindle, and the vapid, insecure, virtual data becomes less and less stable than it already is.

-Steve Nadon

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