Do you own your digital content? The quick answer is obviously yes: it’s bought and paid for. That simple answer comes with a whole mess of other questions. Of that digital content, what exactly is it you own? Just a license? What are the terms & conditions? Could you violate them and lose your content?

The fact is that in the traditional sense of “ownership” – legal right to the possession of things – we do not really own our digital content. It’s easier to think of it in terms of renting or leasing. If you rent a home then you enter into a contract in which you agree to pay on time, not to smash the house and keep any shenanigans to a minimum, etc. You can’t say that you own the home because you are paying someone else to use it and if you break the contract then you can be evicted. Digital content is very similar in that if you break the terms of your contract then you can be banned. Unlike renting a home you don’t have to pay at regular intervals, although after years of World of Warcraft and spending far to much money on every Steam sale it’s starting to feel quite regular.

So what’s the problem? People have been renting homes happily for years, surely it translates across quite easily? Not exactly no. To continue the metaphor: people who rent have a series of legal standards that govern how, when and what they have to have done to be evicted. Whereas the legal standards that govern ownership of digital content are very blurred and can vary drastically from company to company. One of the problems is that so many companies sell products digitally – all with different terms and conditions – and it is still a relatively new market, in comparison to say, renting a house.

The big problems are often with the users understanding of a digital license. How many of you – me included – actually read the terms and conditions that you agree too? At the speed we expect transactions to be complete nowadays, you are in a minuscule minority if you read through a dozen pages of T&C’s at every checkout.

blizzard-bans-350000-hackers-cheaters-battlenet-banhammerOften banning can all be up to a subjective judgement call. There are obvious ban-able offences on services like Steam or Xbox Live: Racism and other such abuse are cut and dry cases. What about sarcastic jokes that go a bit to far? Or subtle mockery? Who decides how far a joke can go? If it has gone a bit to far, is losing your Steam account with 100+ games and £100’s spent really a justified penalty? I certainly agree that there should be sanctions but I’m not sure that it’s a fair price for a bit of trolling.

If you’d like to read a little more about of forms of digital content and their related licenses then you can check out this article. Or if you’d like to try and grapple with the legal side then there’s this one.

 

How far do you think is to far? Both in terms of sanctions and ban-able offences. Let me know in the comments below!

 

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In my next instalment I will be asking whether DLC and micro-transactions are going to far.