It Would Take an Action Hero to Save Music

When I was growing up, an afternoon at the library, browsing through a seemingly infinite number of books, was a common Sunday activity. Mostly, the library was a quiet, air-conditioned sanctuary where everyone had equal access to as many books as they could poke a library card at.

St. Kilda Public Library, Melbourne, Australia
(Click to enlarge)
Considering the number of librarians employed at the local library, it doesn't take much to realize that to own all those books would be an expensive undertaking and an organizational nightmare.

My father once built a huge floor-to-ceiling bookshelf and my mother cataloged all of our books, Dewey Decimal System-style. Alas, with the rest of us kids running (around) the house, maintaining this private library was nigh on impossible. But it was a valiant attempt.

Today, e-books are cheap and sometimes even free. One hand-held device can contain thousands of books, easily sorted according to title, author, genre, subject, date or even publisher. More importantly, there's ample time to read through all of these books. You can take them wherever you go, instantly flip to your bookmark and read a page or two while waiting in line to order your morning latte.

The chilling design on the spine of Stephen King's horror novels need never torment you from the bookshelf again. The teetering pile of unread novels you bought on a whim at Sefer v'Sefel will no longer threaten to topple from the top shelf. You have no need for a physical bookshelf; all of your books are digital. However, the question is, are they really yours?

Ownership of e-media is a contentious and sometimes emotional issue, especially when it requires a sea change in long-held practices and perceptions. In December 2010, Fortune Magazine's Seth Greenstein wrote:
Perhaps it is ironic that the very flexibility that makes digital technology so compelling – the ease of copying and transmission – in the end may deprive consumers of basic economic rights they have enjoyed for centuries. 
Earlier this week it was falsely reported that actor, Bruce Willis is mulling the possibility of challenging Apple's claim that music downloaded from iTunes is rented, not bought. The reports claimed that Willis would like to bequeath his extensive digital music library to his children, but that Apple terms and conditions state that the files are non-transferable.

Like digital music, paid e-books are likely also not yours - they are usually purchased under a licensing agreement (read the fine print). However, as Mathew Ingram of Gigaom wrote in November 2011, there are up-sides and down-sides to licensing media:

"...rental or streaming of content such as books, movies and music has a lot of potential benefits: It can save money and be more convenient, and it can free us from having to worry about where the content is. But at the same time, it also removes certain rights and abilities that we’ve grown used to — just as renting a home instead of owning does — and that is something we are all going to have to learn more about as the world becomes increasingly digital."
Bruce Willis
So, aside from avoiding your Library's "two book limit" rule, accumulating e-books is just a fancy (and more expensive) way to borrow books - although the late-return policy is somewhat more generous.

It's a pity that the Bruce Willis v. Apple story simply isn't true because had he really challenged Apple and won, he would have set a precedent for all sorts of electronic media. Also, the headlines would have read, "Action Hero Saves Music, Books, World", or "Willis Wins: Electronic Media Dies Harder".

For Willis, however, it's all moot. Even if he would sue Apple and win, his kids would never inherit his music collection because Bruce Willis is not the sort of person to die. Ever.


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