Ownership is an interesting concept. As individuals, we own many things, but we also borrow, rent and lease items. For example, we can own the clothes we wear, but we can also borrow or rent them. We can own our car, but we can also lease it. And sometimes Ownership is complicated, such as owning an apartment, which is in a building that you do not own.
Ownership is a concept that can be applied to books, too. We can go to the store and purchase a book. We also pay for ebooks and think that we own them, but we do not. Like a leased vehicle, just because it is in our possession does not mean that we own it.
In 2016, Perzanowski and Schultz wrote The End of Ownership, which is about the ownership of digital goods and the digital marketplace. Schultz notes that ownership of digital goods has gotten quite messy. And it has gotten even more complicated since this book was written. If this topic is of interest to you, I suggest that you read The End of Ownership through SSRN (available here for free as of fall 2020). Perzanowski has also talked about this in a 66-minute video from 2016.
If you buy a book at the bookstore, you own it. You can take it home, scribble in the margins, put in on the shelf, lend it to a friend, sell it at a garage sale. But is the same thing true for the ebooks or other digital goods you buy? Retailers and copyright holders argue that you don't own those purchases, you merely license them. That means your ebook vendor can delete the book from your device without warning or explanation—as Amazon deleted Orwell's 1984 from the Kindles of surprised readers several years ago. These readers thought they owned their copies of 1984. Until, it turned out, they didn't. In The End of Ownership, Aaron Perzanowski and Jason Schultz explore how notions of ownership have shifted in the digital marketplace, and make an argument for the benefits of personal property.
Of course, ebooks, cloud storage, streaming, and other digital goods offer users convenience and flexibility. But, Perzanowski and Schultz warn, consumers should be aware of the tradeoffs involving user constraints, permanence, and privacy. The rights of private property are clear, but few people manage to read their end user agreements. Perzanowski and Schultz argue that introducing aspects of private property and ownership into the digital marketplace would offer both legal and economic benefits. But, most important, it would affirm our sense of self-direction and autonomy. If we own our purchases, we are free to make whatever lawful use of them we please. Technology need not constrain our freedom; it can also empower us.
Citation: Perzanowski, Aaron and Schultz, Jason. The End of Ownership. MIT Press, 2016. Full-text available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3573549 (SSRN is a site for sharing full-text of working papers.)
- Professor Jason Schultz on why he wrote “The End of Ownership” (1-minute video)
- Aaron Perzanowski on The End of Ownership (66-minute video)
- The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy (to purchase through Amazon)