My latest column for Locus Magazine is out: How Copyright Broke. In this essay, I explore the fallacy that the public should treat the books and other media they buy as “limited licenses” and not as their property, and why telling your readers that they don’t own the books they buy will never succeed:
When it comes to retail customers for information goods — readers, listeners, watchers — this whole license abstraction falls flat. No one wants to believe that the book he’s brought home is only partly his, and subject to the terms of a license set out on the flyleaf. You’d be a flaming jackass if you showed up at a con and insisted that your book may not be read aloud, nor photocopied in part and marked up for a writers’ workshop, nor made the subject of a piece of fan-fiction.
At the office, you might get a sweet deal on a coffee machine on the promise that you’ll use a certain brand of coffee, and even sign off on a deal to let the coffee company check in on this from time to time. But no one does this at home. We instinctively and rightly recoil from the idea that our personal, private dealings in our homes should be subject to oversight from some company from whom we’ve bought something. We bought it. It’s ours. Even when we rent things, like cars, we recoil from the idea that Hertz might track our movements, or stick a camera in the steering wheel.
When the Internet and the PC made it possible to sell a lot of purely digital “goods” — software, music, movies and books delivered as pure digits over the wire, without a physical good changing hands, the copyright lawyers groped about for a way to take account of this. It’s in the nature of a computer that it copies what you put on it. A computer is said to be working, and of high quality, in direct proportion to the degree to which it swiftly and accurately copies the information that it is presented with.