Terms of Service: Ownership Not Included

Quartz: “When you purchase an ebook you must agree to the Terms of Service (TOS) that tell you what you can do with it … An overwhelming majority of internet users agree to them without reading them. In one experiment 98% of users failed to notice a clause requiring them to give up their first-born as payment.”

“Using contracts to make an end-run around property law predates the web … Licensing contracts provided software businesses with a tool to control what the buyer did with their software, without the overhead of negotiating terms with each customer … Licensing agreements have been supplemented by far more pervasive TOS contracts, which extend similar protections to websites and other services. Consumer protections have, if anything, gotten weaker. People who were once owners have been transformed into mere users.”

“Despite tremendous erosion of property rights, most consumers transitioning to digital media have so far avoided the pain of losing anything they really cared about. Few have had a favorite ebook deleted or been embroiled in a legal argument over their digital inheritance. The attitudes of young adults make ownership seem positively passé. Rates of homeownership are down, the ‘sharing economy’ is up, and everything that can be streamed will be streamed … However, it may also be that most people simply haven’t yet realized that they’ve given anything up.”

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