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    Posted May 19, 2015 by
    San Luis Obispo, California

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    Defining Ownership


    As of 2013 Apple was estimated to have 3,000 patents, 1,000 of which for mobile devices, and it was suggested that the potential exists for 250,000 individual patents on a smartphone. John Deere could realistically have twice as many on a piece of equipment that’s more than double the size. But what does a company like Apple, an electronics manufacturer, and John Deere, a farm equipment company, have in common? They both are redefining the definition of ownership in America and you weren’t ever supposed to know or care.


    You see over the course of the last decade companies like Apple and John Deere have slowly been selling you goods that are software based, from MP3s and eBooks to tractors. Then they argue that you don’t ever actually own the thing you purchased but rather you rent them. The implication being that you don’t really care about truly owning something you just want to be able to use it. This has stood up in court, so far, and allows companies like Amazon and Vudu to remove books, movies and tv shows you purchased at any time. There’s a lot wrong with this.


    When you buy an item it doesn’t say “Rent” it says “Buy” or “Purchase” which implies that you get to decide from that point forward what happens to your copy of that product just so long as it doesn’t infringe on its proprietary nature. Little did you know that it can be stripped from you at the whim of these companies. Movies like to portray a dystopian future where a child is taken from its mother by authority. What we don’t realize is that the idea of a dystopian future is here, now, but in a different form.


    Software has become such a fundamental part of everything that we use today. It’s inserted itself not just into music and movies but books cars, farm equipment and refrigerators. This is what makes your F250 get 24 mpg and it’s what tells your fridge to run more efficiently and what gives your phone the capabilities that far surpass that of the original space shuttle. All of that being said the implication is ‘access’ is enough. What happens when that product breaks and you want to replace it yourself or take it to a local repair shop that you trust? Or if there’s a way to make it run better than the manufacturer thought of? That is where you run into problems. The “Terms of Use Agreement” that we all randomly clicked yes to, or the license agreement given to us when we purchased the item forbids us from fully tinkering with these things. This is all further complicated by so called DRM laws that are, supposedly, in our best interest. Circumventing these restrictions just to fix a broken component could actually mean breaking the law thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Companies such as Amazon, Apple, IBM, Samsung, John Deere, GM, etc don’t even want to give us the crucial repair information such as repair manuals and error codes for equipment. Anyone who does is slapped with the threat of a lawsuit for copyright infringement.


    Fair-use is thus impeded and you’re stripped of a fundamental right: to repair, and conditioned to just accept that something perfectly good has to be replaced. You can legally be sold a device that is crippled and then legally be pursued for trying to fix it. And as we replace these items our landfills are filling with perfectly good electronic waste that could be refurbished and sold or given to those in need.


    Ownership should mean something more.

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