A minor case that has had a certain repercussion in the media — the rumor, soon denied, of a lawsuit by Bruce Willis against Apple — has drawn public attention to a reality that involves an important change of paradigm. The acquisition of digital files does not give their owner a right to bequeath the digital library to his heirs.
In fact, the possessor of these files is only the usufructuary of these goods, and thus his right to them disappears with his death. This is a condition mentioned in the lengthy contracts imposed by major internet firms, such as Apple and Amazon, which the user seldom takes time to examine.
The importance of this affair lies in the fact that such terms are imposing a new manner of conceiving the market for cultural works. In the digital era, according to this trend, the contents are never really the property of the final user who pays for them. He only possesses them, it might be said, on a rental basis. To bequeath records and books (items, indeed, on which only a certain social elite sets a value) is beginning to be a thing of the past. This is a code that seems to be well understood by the natives of the digital world, but is only reluctantly accepted by their elders. Proof of this is their general ignorance of the terms of the contracts they themselves have signed.
The new culture probably demands unconditional adaptation to the new structure, and a change of model concerning copyright. The ease of copying and divulging digital files exactly like the originals would appear to require new modes of marketing. What is more disturbing is the capacity of a small handful of companies, which act in a situation of virtual worldwide monopoly, not only to impose their conditions beyond the borders of the countries where they reside — essentially the United States — but also to reserve the right to control and manipulate these libraries, for which the user has paid.
The restrictions imposed by these firms as to the number of copies permitted, for example, and the surprising technical ease with which any one of these companies can enter the user’s storage space to withdraw a work, is a threat to privacy, and leaves the user almost devoid of rights over what they have acquired, and even over their own communications — such as occurs, in fact, in the social networks.
The new technologies are becoming a powerful tool by which to control the illegal dissemination of cultural contents. No one now believes in internet as a sphere in which freedom prevails: freedom from control, and freedom from charge. On the contrary, instruments for control, and for the exaction of payment, are being refined and expanded daily. Hence it is necessary to work out policies which would take recent changes into account and which, while maintaining an adequate framework of legal security for technological firms and for copyright, would defend the consumer against possible abuses. On this side of the Atlantic, this is a battle which will necessarily have to be waged not by national governments, but by the European Union.