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Digital music - Caveat Emptor

  • Posted by Michael Carroll
  • September 4, 2012 9:08 AM BST
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The web is awash with rumors actor Bruce Willis is considering suing Apple so he can leave his digital music collection to his children in his will. Whether those reports are true or not, the rumor raises an interesting issue.

Tunes you download are not your own.

The issue is explained well in this CNN article http://edition.cnn.com/2012/09/03/tech/web/bruce-willis-itunes/index.html?hpt=hp_c3 - basically the terms and conditions of most of the major online stores are an agreement that they'll supply the tunes to your device(s), but that they retain ownership over them. Effectively, your are licensing 'your' tunes, not buying them like in the good old days of record stores.

I think the main point here is that the terms and conditions we all blindly agree to on these, and many other online, services are pretty clear. It's just that they are so long and complex, we rarely actually read them. Consider - software licenses for your computer, operating agreements on your web or phone services (remember the 'fair use' kerfuffle on unlimited web and data plans), and even online games. They're all covered by increasingly complex T&Cs that we all just accept so we can get on with our lives.

It used to be so much simpler. When you bought a movie or a music album, it was made clear that the producers of that content maintained copyright, and you agreed not to sell it on or make copies (which, of course, none of us did). Now we're faced with a barrage of potential legal action, and all for perhaps, one day, wanting to pass our assets on to our children.

Perhaps it's time we all started reading these laborious T&Cs, despite their length and complexity? Otherwise, as the creators of South Park pointed out in 2011, it's definitely a case of buyer beware - http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/south_park_marries_apple_and_human_centipede/

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