11/30/2012 02:34 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Ownership: Why My Digital Files Aren't Really My Own

I've been thinking about the concept of ownership in the digital world. It seems that owning something digital may not be the same as owning something in the physical world.

Here's how I learned this. I was traveling last week overseas, to France and then Monaco. I've been catching up on a hit TV series that many of my friends recommended -- Homeland. I'm a 2012-11-30-homeland.jpgbit behind -- OK, I'm a year behind, so I decided to buy the 2011 season. Amazon offered it in SD and HD as part of their Amazon Instant Video Offering. I bit the bullet -- $31.00 for the HD version of the season, about $2.50 an episode, almost the cost of a movie rental, for A one hour TV show. Not cheap, but it won 6 Emmys, so fair enough.

First, I wanted to bring it with me on my iPad. Amazon offers a nifty Prime Video App for the iPad (free) so I downloaded the app -- and then bought the Season. Amazon was clear -- you can download it twice (as per their deal with the studio). Fair enough, I get the concept of buying a copy, or a number of copies. With software downloads you can buy a fixed number of downloads. But my iPad was where I wanted to access the file -- so I burned one of my downloads and my iPad was ready to travel.

Once on the plane I found a collection of pretty terrible Hollywood movies on the in-flight entertainment system. I was feeling pretty smart for having brought my own media. Click. Fail. The Amazon Instant Video App needs to be connected to the web to play a video. That didn't make sense to me, as I had downloaded it to the device. OK, maybe it's for DRM purposes to make sure I'm logged in as an authorized user. Pretty disappointing but, OK, lesson learned. Then, after a few days of non-stop at the Monaco Media Forum, I snuck off to my room to catch up on an episode or two of Homeland. Again -- fail. And this time, my iPad was connected to the web. But Amazon had me Geolocated in France, and this file isn't allowed to be played outside of the USA. Again, Amazon pointed the finger at the movie studio. But here, I call foul.

Think about it. How would you feel if McGraw/Hill allowed you to buy a copy of Curation Nation but said you can't take the book out of the country. How dare they!!! You own it. You didn't rent it, or borrow it. What if GM said you can buy a car in Texas, but you can't drive it to Arizona. Again, you'd go nuts. Or what if The Gap sold you a pair of white pants, but said -- you can't wear these after Labor Day. Ownership means you don't have to be bound by rules or as permission to use what you own.

In point of fact, Amazon isn't selling me a copy of Homeland. It's giving me a limited license to view it, under certain circumstances and within certain territories. And I'm guessing that they have the right to adjust those terms and conditions at any time.

All of the sudden my $31 doesn't seem like a fair deal, it feels like an overpriced video streaming fee that's masquerading as ownership. And I don't like it. And most importantly, I don't like that Amazon didn't tell me about the limits of my rights BEFORE I purchased it. DRM is an old idea that's quickly going away. Apple has effectively abolished DRM on iTunes after trying to control rights to music. And we shouldn't let Hollywood Studios redefine what "owning" a movie means any more than we would let GM redefine what owning a car means.

Once I buy it, it's mine. To use as I please. And not being able to view a movie or TV show on an airplane is just plain crazy. Not only do I want my money back, I want the 2 hours I took fumbling around with downloads and failed attempts to view the show. That really makes me mad.