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Home  /  geekspeak  /  Digital Goods: Know what you’re getting

Digital Goods: Know what you’re getting

Recent years have seen an explosion in digital services for just about any type of entertainment you’d care to name, whether it’s digital music, digital movies or digital books.

There’s a definite convenience in digital delivery of entertainment, because it completely removes the inconveniences of real world delivery. Gone are the inconveniences of heading to a record store to find that an LP, Cassette or CD wasn’t yet in, heading to the bookstore to find that they’d never heard of your favourite author or heading to the video store to find out that they were out of everything except, it seems, something that went direct to video anyway that they invariably had fifty copies of.

Instead, digital services offer a near endless vista of choice, and it gets better when you’re talking subscription services that give you all you can eat buffet. So far in Australia that’s been limited largely to music services, although there are ways to get access to services such as Netflix through the use of VPN or DNS bypass software.

The most obvious downside for these services is that in being online-focused, you’re best suited to take advantage of them if you’re sitting on a decent quality Internet connection. It’s somewhat annoying trying to listen to music that breaks up or takes a while to buffer, but it’s downright distracting watching video that stops every couple of seconds, or simply appears as digital garbage.

That’s part and parcel of the digital experience, but it’s also worth weighing up exactly what it is that you do — or don’t — get with digital goods and subscription services versus buying the physical equivalent. It’s often — but not always — true that the digital equivalent may be slightly cheaper than its real world equivalent, but there’s some significant differences in what you actually get, and especially in what you actually own.

You know those user licence agreements that you probably just ticked “I Agree” to before starting to watch your digital movie or listen to your digital music track? It was worth reading them, not because you may enjoy legal jargon, but because the rights you have with many digital goods are quite different to those you have with physical goods.

In effect, most digital music, movies and books are treated more like they’re software — which in a totally literal sense, they are — and this means what you’re paying for is a licence, not an actual object.

Why does that matter? Largely it’s because the rights you have when you buy, say, a music CD are quite different to those you have when you buy the same thing through Google Music or iTunes.

If you buy an actual CD, you’re perfectly entitled to format shift it in order to listen to it on other devices, so you can rip it to any smartphone, music player or similar device. If you buy the digital equivalent, you don’t automatically have those same rights; you’ve got whatever rights the music service grants you, which may or may not allow for format shifting or burning a “backup” optical disc.

You’re also entitled to sell that CD if you tire of it, whereas there’s no rights of sale with just about any digital goods. Indeed, the licences applied to many digital goods offer an entirely different kind of experience, because they don’t offer permanent access. If a service you’ve bought digital goods from goes down, often your rights to access those goods go with it.

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