Do you own your phone? How about your thermostat or even your car? I would guess that most people would reflexively respond that they do own those things. However, due to intellectual property laws, you don’t:
One key reason we don’t control our devices is that the companies that make them seem to think – and definitely act like – they still own them, even after we’ve bought them. A person may purchase a nice-looking box full of electronics that can function as a smartphone, the corporate argument goes, but they buy a license only to use the software inside. The companies say they still own the software, and because they own it, they can control it. It’s as if a car dealer sold a car, but claimed ownership of the motor.
This sort of arrangement is destroying the concept of basic property ownership.
I’ve hit on this topic numerous times but it bears repeating. Copyright laws don’t apply to purely mechanical goods so when you buy an older car or a mechanical watch you actually own it. Copyright laws do apply to software so when you buy anything that runs software you are licensing it. The difference between ownership and licensing is significant.
If you own something, you have the right to do whatever you want with it. If a product that you own breaks, you can hire anybody you want to repair it. If you are unhappy with the performance of a product that you own, you can modify it to your heart’s content. If you license something, you have a limited set of privileges. If your licensed product breaks, you might be restricted on where you can take it for repairs. If your are unhappy with the performance of your licensed product, you might be restricted on what kind of modifications, if any, you are allowed to make.
As software becomes more pervasive, ownership will become more endangered. It doesn’t have to be this way though. If copyrights didn’t apply to software, manufacturers wouldn’t have a legal foundation to restrict buyers. If manufacturers used free (as in freedom) software, buyers would be able to own their products. Unfortunately, I don’t think manufacturers will make any major move to utilize free software since most of them probably enjoy the fact that the State is subsidizing them by enforcing their ability to license instead of sell their products to buyers. Until that changes, digital serfdom will remain the norm and buyers won’t be able to claim that they own the products that they spend money on.