So my wife and I drove down to Modesto for this weekend. I wanted to test out using my phone with my car’s Sync, because I noticed it had a USB connection. I tried to start playing Pandora and my car told me Sync was unable to play protected content through this device. Let’s think about how absurd this is. I have an auxilary input into my car, so I can easily use a headphone jack to play the exact same music through the car speakers. The only difference is that I lose the ability to use the on steering wheel music controls. Digital copyright maximalists have decided that to allow microsoft to use Sync they must limit the devices that can play protected content. How assinine. This means that it is now les safe for me to play music because I can’t use the dash screen to see what music is playing or other controls to keep my eyes on the road. I own both the car and the phone and I’m paying for Pandora through ads. There’s no logical reason that I shouldn’t be able to use these products in this way.
This is a bit of a first world problem sure, but the same idea that is limiting my ability to use products that I own how I want them is shaping the rest of the internet and controlling how media (digital or print in some cases) can be used and consumed the world over. One of the more famous cases of late is the story of a guy that bought a book from Thailand and sold it in the US. The got sued because apparently that’s might not have been legal (supreme court thankfully ruled in his favor) another one is the idea that any software is merely a license and not actually a product that you own. In this case Autodesk sued a guy that was selling an old copy of AutoCAD that he’d never opened, on the grounds that he bought a license and the terms of service (which they can change at any time without you knowing or re-agreeing to) said that he was unable to transfer this license. This wasn’t a digital download it was a physical disk with the content on it.
I believe that because the US market is becoming saturated in many regards for these types of technologies, these companies are looking to turn these aging platforms, technologies, and content into a continual revenue stream. Instead of risking money to innovate they are turning into monopolists that are exhibiting rent seeking behavior. They must do this to keep their stocks from falling. Even the fabled internet companies that are supposed to be different aren’t. Amazon has been accused of limiting access to drive book prices down from their suppliers. Amazon limiting access to books. Think about that. Can you think of anything more abhorent than limiting access to culture and/or knowledge to gain a greater profit margin?
Should companies make profits, by god yes. Should we enable companies that have innovative ideas to enter the market? Definitely, in fact it’s an imperative if we want to avoid rent seeking behavior. I’m not always a fan of Lyft, Uber, and AirBnB but they are making a serious effort to confront entrenched businesses, archaic laws, and meet an obvious market need. So, let’s work to enable market competition and limit monopolistic behavior. The former is good for everyone, while the latter only for those in power.