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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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Do You Own your Books?

When you buy a magazine in the supermarket checkout aisle, all you're really buying is the paper in your hands, the ink that smudges on your fingers, and a license to your single copy of the magazine's content in printed form. The words and pictures themselves are not for sale. The same is true when you buy a compact disc, or a computer program, or even listen to the radio. Although it feels as if you are buying the content, you are not: you are buying a license. Furthermore, it's frequently illegal to make a second copy of the material.

Pity the poor publishers: advances in computer technology are making it easier than ever for you to make perfect copies of published material. Faced with this situation, one logical response on the part of publishers might be to lower prices, improve quality and selection, and generally make it easier for people to purchase licensed copies than to make their own or hunt down pirated wares. Few publishers, though, are thinking this way. Instead, they are developing technologies to make copying harder and make it easier to punish those responsible. Invariably, these technologies work by systematically invading the privacy of the consumer.

For decades, the distinction between physical possession of a printed book and ownership of the words inside the covers was irrelevant to many people. The high cost of copying printed information effectively prevented people from making their own, unauthorized copies of the book's content. And ...

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