Monday, April 7, 2014

Steam Family Sharing renegotiates copyright in our favour

Steam (the video-game distribution service) just renegotiated your copyright with them. And unusually, they've taken a step on the long road towards ending the pointless copyright wars, instead of escalating further.

You can now "lend out" digital games to your family and friends. It's a small step, but a good one:

Jaron Lanier gave a talk recently where he pointed out one consequence of the "paper-thin" Digital Rights Management around DVDs, compared with the "open-access" data on CD.  "Imagine that 20 years ago, you put a CD and DVD into safe." he thought-experimented. They cost about the same when you bought them, and twenty years later you open the safe and ask "what capabilities does owning this medium offer?"

Well, with DVDs, you can do pretty much what you could do back in the day - play them on your region-locked DVD player, unskippable FBI warnings and all.

But with CDs, you can shift the music to your iPod, digital music collections, Spotify... there's more you can do with a CD today (again, legally speaking) than ever. Amazingly, the unprotected CD has increased in utility value, thanks to technology. That investment you made back in the day keeps paying off. Weird.

Valve and Steam have just done something equivalent. They "renegotiated" your copyright with them - as is allowed in that EULA you clicked through, as could be done by any media company at any time - but instead of screwing us, they have taken the opportunity to act on our behalf.

(In this way, they are outperforming many actual governments.)

Basically, you can now lend your game library to other people as easily as letting them sit down at your own computer to play a game, or loaning them the game media. (with the added advantage they can't lose or step on it, and you can yank it back any time you need to.)

What this does, once again, is increase the utility value of your Steam digital library. All those games you bought can convert into favours amongst friends - one of the hardest currencies of all.

Steam gave you more digital rights, rather than trying to restrict them even further. Isn't that refreshing? Being treated with respect? Feels good, doesn't it?

We're closer to the day that "baby's first steps" can't get yanked from YouTube because a digitally-bought-and-paid-for copy of "Finding Nemo" was on in the background. Where buying an album means you can sing your own terrible karaoke version in public, or do a heavy-metal guitar cover that many think is better than the original, without fear of prosecution.

More generally, the digital rights afforded us need to align with the way we (and our children) actually use the technology in our modern daily lives, or the copyright industry is just a way of criminalizing the entire population for being alive in the 21st century, for profit.

No comments:

Post a Comment