This looks at the new schemed by Apple and Amazon to allow digital sharing, and basically excoriates them as being a “failure of copyright law”.

While I sort of agree–current digital lending processes are pretty shit–there’s one big huge single glaring difference between, say, a digital ebook and a physical print book. That it:

You can’t actually “share” an ebook. You can only make a copy of it.

This is the core difference. If I loan you a book, then while you have that book, I don’t have access to it. More importantly, that one single book is still linked to one single purchase that I (or whomever) gave in exchange for it. Who actually possesses the book at any one time is kind of moot; that’s why it’s a purchase and not a license. This is the model of gods exchange that makes “sense” to us, because it’s the one we’ve been using since we first invented commerce like a zillion years ago, and that’s all well and good.

Except, by the very nature of the technology, digital files do not and cannot work this way, and pretending that they can is, in my opinion, extremely disingenuous. Unlike physical books, a digital ebook has a zero1 cost of reproduction. Perfect reproduction. That is, there’s no functional difference between a copy of an ebook and the original ebook. What this fundamentally means is that there’s no way of ensuring our 150,000-plus-year-old model of commerce functions in this new online environment.

(I’m not kidding about the “150,000-plus years”, either. No wonder business models have been slow to catch up to modern digital realities, given “trade of physical goods” is something that’s been around about a long as humanity has.)

So vendors–be they Apple or Amazon or whomever–introduce artificial restrictions to try and find some kind of solution. This is where we get DRM and digital file licensing and all that nonsense from, with various different attempts having various different levels of success.

Ultimately, I think that assuming digital media can ever be truly (a-har) analogous to physical media is naive, no matter which “side” of the argument one stands on. Which, yanno. Doesn’t mean I don’t think DRM isn’t shit, or don’t want more user-friendly licensing terms on digital content, or whatever. Only that, like. Some of the conversation around the issue is a bit… yanno. Muddled. Shall we say.

Oh well. I’m sure in another 150,000 years we’ll’ve figured something out.

  1. Technically “close to zero”, but the technically is enough in this instance. []