Yes, we've had the debate over and over and over again during the years (so much so that I'm not even going to dig up the links) concerning whether or not copyright is like "property." However, reading an article by Alex Cummings on "the end of ownership,"
it really drives home why copyright can often be anti-property rights
, in that it takes away the standard types of "rights" that people have in property they've purchased. Cummings' piece focuses on the secondary market for copyright-covered content, and how the content industries have been trying for over a century to stamp such things out, but were long held back by important concepts like the first sale right. However, in an all digital world, they're having a lot more luck in killing off secondary markets:
Congress declined to heed the industry's cries in 1906, but the issue of how consumers may use copyrighted works has cropped up and again. In the 1930s some record companies placed labels on their discs that said they were for "home use only"—not for playing on the radio. The courts rejected this restriction and sided with broadcasters. In the early 1980s, the music industry successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Record Rental Amendment, ensuring that a Blockbuster-like store for renting music would never emerge.
And, of course, he discusses things like the ReDigi case
, which basically said even if you purchased a digital item, you have no right to resell it. And the impact of all of this can be pretty broad, going well beyond just digital files, to a question of whether or not you'll really be able to "own" anything you purchase, because companies are increasingly using copyright to stop your basic ownership rights:
Today, we see a renewed attack on the rights of consumers by big business. Overly zealous regulation means that consumers are essentially barred from "unlocking" a cell phone, or severing the device from its original wireless carrier. Critics warn that such restrictions not only limit the rights of consumers but threaten to stifle old-fashioned tinkering and innovation. It is as if Ford told customers that they can't pop the hood of their car and mess around its inner workings (which is how the world got NASCAR, incidentally).
How far should a phone company's power extend into our personal lives when we buy one of their products? When you buy a phone or an MP3, is it really yours—or has a company just loaned it to you with a laundry list of stipulations and provisos? The age of cloud computing is upon us, and soon most of our books, movies, and musics might have no material form. We may discover that buying something no longer means owning it in any meaningful sense—and our stuff isn't really ours anymore.
When you begin to think about all of those things -- many of which are already happening -- you begin to see just how anti-property rights copyright can be at times. Some of this, you could argue, is copyright misuse -- individuals and companies stretching the clear intent of copyright law to their own advantage -- but some of it seems to be part of the design of copyright law: to restrict all sorts of things you can do with your own property. It's difficult to see how strong supporters of property rights can also claim that copyright is good for property rights when you look at how many ways it seems to attack those basic concepts, and leads to a world where many of the things you "buy" you no longer own.