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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Kindling e-book ownership

    My Flappy Bird high score is 70. I’ve spent excessive amounts of time on the app for a fairly meager payoff, but hey, at least I didn’t try to spend excessive amounts of money for the questionable pleasure of playing it.

    I managed to jump on the bird-wagon two days before Flappy Bird was removed from the App Store and Google Play. eBay posts tell me I could make $99,900 for a single iPhone 5S with Flappy Bird on it — I just can’t sell one on eBay without breaking both its and Apple’s terms of use. So if I want to make bank by selling devices that haven’t been reset, I guess I’ll have to sell my iPad out of my trenchcoat in an alley somewhere.

    Really, I love Flappy Bird too much to sell it. But for a little while, I wasn’t sure I’d even have the option to play it. We were lucky the game didn’t disappear completely, even from devices it was downloaded on, considering the lack of real ownership for digital products and the revocable leases we really obtain.

    What’s really being purchased on the App Store is the right to use something. These leases are restricted by the terms of service most of us agree to without reading. Basically, the license can be taken away if the company decides you’ve misused it. The most obvious illustration of this concept is, to me, the difference between a hard copy of a book and an e-book.

    With a hard copy of a book, if I want, I can take my three copies and lend one to my friend, donate one to the library and sell one to Bookman’s without having to restore them to factory settings — though if I was one of those people who writes in books, I’d do the courtesy of erasing my marks first.

    That’s my decision. I own the book and as long as I don’t break the law, mostly copyright law, I can do pretty much whatever I want with it.

    That isn’t possible with e-books.

    Breaking out a Kindle, Nook or iPad and trying to lend a book to a friend by letting them borrow your device or account breaks your terms of service. The same goes for trying to resell, donate or leave it to an heir. Once you break those terms of service, Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Apple can come in and take your license away, making the book disappear from your device.

    That’s not to say that you actually have to violate the terms of service to lose your books. On July 17, 2009, Amazon pulled George Orwell’s books “1984” and “Animal Farm” off of Kindle devices, without warning, because of an issue with the copyright. After users expressed surprise, confusion and anger at losing their books, Amazon apologized and promised to be more upfront if it has to remove books again on such a large scale.

    Wired’s “Mr. Know-It-All,” Brendan I. Koerner, addressed his frustrations with Amazon’s ability to revoke the license in one of his columns.

    “If Jeff Bezos [founder and CEO of Amazon] showed up at your door and said he wanted to repossess your books, would you let him in?” Koerner wrote. “No, you’d unleash your hounds. And then hope that one of the dogs got ahold of his wallet.”

    Jokes aside, he has a very important point. It would be unreasonable to take away hard copies like one can take away e-books. Part of what’s nice about having a physical book is being able to do what you want with it, and the same should apply to e-books.

    Resale is a way to extend a book’s life after printing stops and supports the used books market, generally small business owners, though also the occasional company like Bookman’s. Making resale a violation of terms of service is an underhanded shot at market domination and elimination of a viable, legal, minor competitor.

    It’s great to have my books, both physical and digital, and my Flappy Bird. I just wish I actually owned all of them. A push for true digital ownership and against harsh terms of service needs to happen if we want to keep our digital possessions as long as we keep our physical ones. For now though, if you want to play Flappy Bird, hit me up. I’ll let you borrow it — just don’t tell Apple.

    — David W. Mariotte is a journalism sophomore. Follow him @DW_DavidWallace

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