Technology and the Law

Technology, Media and the Law

Technology and media corporations have been increasingly trying to limit what consumers can do with their products. When you purchase a physical movie DVD, music compact disc (CD), or book, you have the option of loaning it to a friend or donating it to a secondhand store. The movie studios, music labels, and publishers have no way to recoup the money they would have made from the sale in a secondhand store or the money lost when your friend borrows the item rather than purchasing it for themselves. When you purchase any of these items digitally it is illegal to share or sell them to others. Nobody would call you a pirate for passing along a physical copy to a friend, but if you did the same thing with a digital copy you are breaking the law.

The same is true for hardware. Companies such as Keurig, who tried to add digital rights management (DRM) to its coffee pods to make it impossible to use pods from other vendors, had to backpedal this policy when it received backlash from consumers. If a product is too limited in scope it will have a short future. In addition, a product that does not catch on with enough consumers will fail (e.g., the Betamax). Part of innovation in technology is letting “hackers” find ways to make it work for their needs. I love my iPad, but it is not the best platform for certain things, such as editing and saving files. I will always need a computer as well as a tablet or smartphone because those devices have limited capabilities.


Another issue with hardware is lack of software updates on older devices. Users of older Sonos speaker systems were recently told that they would no longer receive software updates. Apple users have contended with this issue for years; I still have a first-generation iPad collecting dust because Apple no longer supports it. Computer users are familiar with the concept of operating systems becoming obsolete (Windows 7 is the most recent Microsoft casualty.)  Compatibility and security are the main concerns with operating systems. External devices behave like hardware but also contain software and are prone to these issues as well. I own an iWatch and will be sad when it reaches its end of life. I’m not sure I will purchase another because I don’t use it for much outside of checking time and the weather.

As the Internet of Things becomes more widespread, we will be encountering these issues more often. My parents owned a console television and stereo that lasted forever. They did not need to worry about software obsolescence or whether they could hook up auxiliary equipment legally. They also did not get to enjoy the wonders of wirelessly casting streaming movies or music to an entertainment system or answering the phone through a watch. We live in amazing times, which could be even more amazing if the companies who develop and sell the products would keep the users’ autonomy in mind.