aaron maxwell

Digital Property... Isn't

Files like MP3s, video, and electronic articles are fundamentally different from physical property.

They are not physical. They are information. The metaphors of property law will often mislead you:

A hammer is property. A hammer can be stolen. Files cannot be stolen. Only illegally copied.

If a thief steals your hammer, it can be confiscated and returned to you. Files cannot be returned. You can only, possibly, delete all unauthorized copies.

If your ten hammers are stolen, then recovered and returned to you, you know that none of those hammers are out there. If a file is on the public internet, there is no guarantee you will ever be able to delete all unauthorized copies.

Here's an alterative wording: a file is an asset. A digital asset can be copied, or read, or modified, or used. Legally, or illegally.

This is important. Laws that don't make this distinction may be rendered ineffective, or worse, unjust. We are truly in the age of information and data. It's not going away.

When you read something that refers to digital assets as property, or uses words like "theft" or "steal" or "return", gently comment or write the author suggesting the distinction. Maybe point them here.

This is important.

By Aaron Maxwell. Follow on Twitter