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But I thought it was mine…

When I was a kid, I used to go to Walmart or a music store with my parents to buy new movies or music. Whenever I discovered that a movie I wanted to see was going to air on tv, you better believe I had my video tape cued and scheduled to record. I also used to have blank cassette tapes ready to record my favorite song when it played on the radio. Having the freedom to record movies and music whenever I wanted really set the bar for how I would interact with music going forward. This was made possible due to the Audio Home Recording Act of the 1980’s. By the time I had high-speed internet access, one would think “If I can find it online, I can download it.” My parents quickly informed me that downloading movies and music online was illegal. I couldn’t wrap my head around why it was OK to record a movie or song if it aired on tv or the radio, but If I wanted the same song over the internet, it was all of a sudden illegal.

Hello on-demand.

Finally, by the early 2000s Apple releases the iPod along with iTunes. It was finally legal to download music and eventually movies online for a one-time fee. But, there is a catch, what you purchased is only meant for personal use. Want to give that song or movie to a friend as a gift, while retaining a copy for yourself? You can’t. We were all sold a lie. Most people thought that buying a movie meant we could do whatever we wanted with it. After all, that is why most people are comfortable paying for music or movies because they “owned” access to it. Right?

Today, the only reason people buy music is because the subscription service does not have the song or movie title they’re looking for. Within the next few years, we will see brands launching services that give people access to more and more content. This will reduce the desire for people to own anything anymore. Because technically if you don’t have the copyright to it, you really don’t own it. Netflix and Spotify have become just as important as buying groceries. Younger generations don’t feel the need to buy movies or music because they already have access to it. Apple Music and Spotify have over 40 million songs in their library. Netflix has hundreds of thousands of movies and tv shows.

Licensing vs Ownership.

Let’s say you’re not the artist, you didn’t write the song, you didn’t pay for the promotion and recording of the music like the record label did. You simply love the song, you bought it and now you want to make a mix tape, you have to get permission, licenses, or rights to allow you to do something with the content. If you do anything without the license to it, you technically go to jail. This idea of getting people to pay for “ownership” was one of the biggest misconceptions of the 20th century. In reality, all we were doing was paying for a license. Artists should be compensated for their hard work and talent. However, it should be in a way that doesn’t punish consumers for doing what they do naturally. And that is to share and enjoy music. Spotify and Apple Music seem to have a healthy balance of letting customers share music with friends. In parallel, these services pay royalties to record labels. Some would argue that streaming services do not pay enough to make a career with the music and films they produce.

I personally think it’s a sly move on the entertainment industry that not many people realize. The entertainment industry understands that if they can meet the human desire to have access to whatever, whenever, the concept of “owning” entertainment will become a thing of the past. When you buy content, you’re actually paying to have access to it. It is a permanent license. It’s like buying a movie ticket that never expires. You can’t bring it home with you, but you can watch it anytime you please. Don’t be fooled, when you buy it you don’t really own it, you are just licensing it.

Originally published at on August 15, 2017

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