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It’s Time to Rethink Digital Ownership

It’s Time to Rethink Digital Ownership
Written by Techbot

ON THIS WEEK’S episode of Have a Nice Future, Gideon Lichfield and Lauren Goode talk to Aaron Perzanowski, a University of Michigan law professor and coauthor of two books on our shifting definitions of ownership, The End of Ownership and The Right to Repair. They dive into why “buying” something means less than it used to and whether consumers have any hope of clawing back some semblance of ownership rights from big corporations.

Show Notes

You can learn more about the right-to-repair debate by reading Aaron Perzanowski’s books, The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy, with Jason Schultz, and The Right to Repair: Reclaiming the Things We Own. Be sure to check out WIRED’s coverage of the right-to-repair movement, including this story about a landmark law in Massachusetts and an essay from one of our writers who believes anything worth fixing can be fixed

Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Gideon Lichfield is @glichfield. Bling the main hotline at @WIRED.

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Transcript

Note: This is an automated transcript, which may contain errors.

Lauren: It’d be really fun if you went to the dentist and then you got laughing gas before this taping.

Gideon: You said you wanted to be more giggly. I’ll be even more giggly on nitrous oxide.

Lauren: So many giggles.

[Music]

Gideon: Hi, I’m Gideon Lichfield.

Lauren: And I’m Lauren Goode, and this is Have a Nice Future, a podcast about how terrifyingly fast everything is changing.

Gideon: Each week we talk to someone with big, audacious, and sometimes unnerving ideas about the future, and we ask them how we can all prepare to live in it.

Lauren: Our guest this week is Aaron Perzanowski. He’s a law professor at the University of Michigan who studies our diminishing ownership rights.

Aaron (audio clip): It didn’t take long to realize that the same kinds of erosion of ownership that we were seeing when it came to digital media were also playing out with respect to physical devices, right? The things we carry around, or drive around, or install in our homes. And so I saw that parallel as something that was, um, especially troubling.

[Music]

Lauren: Gideon, how many CDs do you have in your collection?

Gideon: What’s a CD?

Lauren: Compact disc.

Gideon: Oh. Oh, that’s right. Historical memory is hitting me now. Compact discs. Uh, I have quite a lot of CDs, but they’re in a box in the basement somewhere. I haven’t touched them in years. All my music’s in the cloud, obviously.

Lauren: And do you own that music in the cloud?

Gideon: Well, that’s an interesting question because I, at some point, like most people, uploaded all my CDs to my laptop and put them in iTunes, and at some point after that—and the upgrades from one laptop to another—most of that music disappeared. And Apple evidently decided that because I had not downloaded that music directly from Apple, I couldn’t possibly own it. So I no longer have access to it, even though it is in my basement.

Lauren: I think I had a similar experience. And this was around the era of iTunes Match, which was supposed to, I think, match your music across different devices, which was a novel idea at the time. But I too, once had boxes full of CDs, put them on a laptop, thought I owned that music, uploaded them to the cloud or something resembling the cloud at the time. And now all I do is pay $10 a month for multiple services to access media that I don’t really own.

Gideon: So why are we talking to Aaron Perzanowski about this?

Lauren: So Aaron is a professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, he’s the author of two books about digital ownership and the right to repair, and I guess you’d say he’s a general expert on the principles of intellectual property and personal ownership. He is also, as I learned through this conversation, a huge Nicolas Cage fan.

Gideon: Ah, does that make him a more credible legal authority?

[Laughter]

Lauren: I mean, it depends on how you feel about Nic Cage, I think. But this actually played a part in our conversation, because in Aaron’s quest to watch every Nic Cage movie ever made, he has bumped right up against the limits of personal ownership in this digital era. And so that line from, uh, the Nic Cage movie I downloaded years ago to, say, the right to get your car repaired by who you choose in the state of Massachusetts may seem like a stretch, but they’re actually related.

Gideon: OK, so you’ve brought up right to repair a couple of times. Now, what—remind us—what does it mean?

Lauren: So the right to repair is kind of a catchall phrase for the basic idea that you should be able to easily repair the things that you own. But it’s also a grassroots movement of people, of advocates who are actively pushing for legislation around this, because the idea is that corporations have made it increasingly difficult for consumers to just go get a thing repaired.

Gideon: OK, but when I think about right to repair, I often think of really nerdy people in basements and garages who are, you know, taking radios apart, but it doesn’t actually feel relevant to the vast majority of us.

Lauren: Yeah, that’s fair. I think it’s easy to just assume this is about tinkerers or people who are soldering hardware bits. It’s actually about software these days. Because as we were talking about earlier, you know, as our music and our movies went online, as our cars became Wi-Fi-connected, as our phones became these hyper-sophisticated data collectors in our pockets, the companies that make these products want to protect their assets as much as possible. So that’s not just hardware assets. They want to own and protect those layers of data now that exist because everything is Wi-Fi-connected.

Gideon: OK. So we’re moving into this future of kind of corporate communism where we don’t actually own anything. The corporations just own it for us.

Lauren: Hmm. That sounds at once dystopian and idyllic, like it sounds like you’re describing a digital kibbutz.

Gideon: A digital kibbutz run by, uh, billion-dollar companies.

Lauren: Run by billion-dollar companies, right. Yeah, I think Aaron was pretty pessimistic about our ownership future. I mean, he did suggest that more legislation could be arriving soon, at least here in the United States, that will help consumers regain their rights around the goods they purchased. He also recently testified on a congressional panel that explored some future potential policies around this. But in general he’s a skeptic.

Gideon: I love me a good congressional panel. They fix so many things.

Lauren: [Laughter] Well, you’ll have to hear what Aaron says about that, and that’s coming up right after the break.

[Music]

Lauren: Aaron Perzanowski, thanks so much for joining me on Have a Nice Future.

Aaron: It’s great to be with you.

Lauren: Are you having a nice future?

Aaron: I am skeptical about the future, generally. It seems to be getting worse in a whole bunch of respects, but I’m, you know, trying to keep some degree of optimism.

Lauren: Do you think that that’s just an, I don’t know, an element of getting older, like all generations feel that way?

Aaron: I hope not. That would be, that would be a sad trend to fall into. Maybe that’s true, though. I don’t know. For me, I think some of my skepticism about the future is like a byproduct of the set of issues that I spend my time thinking about. And I see a lot of cause for concern out in the world.

Lauren: What are you most skeptical about?

Aaron: Well, I mean, the thing that I spend most of my time thinking about is, you know, this question of ownership in a digital economy. What does it mean to own the devices that you use every day when they’re controlled by software? What does it mean to own your music collection in a world that is dominated by streaming platforms? And I see a lot of troubling trends that have been going on for a couple of decades now, and they don’t seem to be relenting.

Lauren: Hmm. So you’ve written a couple books on the matter. You’ve written about the right to repair. You’ve written another book called The End of Ownership. What first sparked your interest? I’m wondering if there was a specific event or example for you that made you realize like, “What the hell? I don’t own the thing that I thought that I owned.”

Aaron: So I started thinking about and writing about these issues with my frequent collaborator, Jason Schultz, going on, I don’t know, 15 years ago now. And you know, the era when we were doing this work was that period of time where licensed downloads were really the dominant way of accessing music. The Apple iTunes store was the number one retailer of music in the United States, and I was seeing this shift away from physical formats—from CDs and records—to digital formats. And I was curious about what that meant for, you know, that sense of ownership, that sense of control over your collection. And that, for me, is really where this all got started. But it didn’t take long to realize that the same kinds of erosion of ownership that we were seeing when it came to digital media were also playing out with respect to physical devices, right? The things we carry around or drive around or install in our homes. And so I saw that parallel as something that was especially troubling.

Lauren: Was there a specific piece of media that inspired you to get more involved in this?

Aaron: Well, not at the time.

Lauren: Mm-hmm.

Aaron: But I, I’ve been kind of noting the importance of physical media a lot lately, and I can give you one concrete example. So one thing I’ve been doing over the last year, for better or worse, is I’ve been rewatching every Nicolas Cage movie in chronological order. [Chuckle] And, and a lot of those movies are very easily accessible. They’re on streaming services that I already pay for, or I can pay $4 and rent them from Apple. But there are a handful of his early films that were almost impossible to track down. And, in fact, where did I end up getting them? I got them on physical disc from the library because they just weren’t available anywhere else.

Lauren: Uh huh.

Aaron: And once those physical formats go away, I do think we have a much higher risk of just losing out on pieces of culture that might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but might have a sort of small audience that would appreciate them at some point in the future.

Lauren: Mm-hmm. Yeah, when you first said Nic Cage, my, the podcast voice in my head said, “Say more about that.” That is definitely a choice, and now I have to ask you what your favorite Nic Cage movie is.

Aaron: This, this is like asking someone like what, you know, their, their favorite child is or something. I have such a deep—

Lauren: [Laughter] Wow, you’re really passionate about this.

Aaron: I am, I am. And I think it comes across as ironic, and I don’t mean it with any sense of irony whatsoever. I think he’s an absolutely amazing performer. He’s made a lot of really amazing films over the years. I think Raising Arizona is like a classic comedic performance.The movie he made a couple years ago called Pig was like really remarkable. So a lot of range. Right. And the guy I think is a genuine genius, although he makes some bad choices in terms of what films he ends up appearing in, but he’s always doing something interesting. And so I wanted to go back and like kinda watch that progression of his career, and it was a real challenge at times. Like there were a couple of periods of like three, four weeks where I couldn’t get my hands on the next movie, and that’s something I think we have to be concerned about in, in terms of like the longevity of our cultural productions.

Lauren: Right. It seems as though what’s happened is we’ve transitioned from physical goods to then digital goods, and digital rights management to more subscription services, and now, ultimately, it’s really about data in the cloud.

Aaron: So I think for a lot of companies, there’s a desire to find ways to collect as much data as possible and then figure out a business model to trade on the value of that data. And I don’t know that companies have totally figured out exactly how to make this work just yet, but they’re smart enough to understand that there’s going to be some long-term advantage to collecting lots of data over time. You know, my car is tracking all sorts of information about where I am, about my habits and patterns, about the speed at which I drive, the time of day—

Lauren: What kind of car do you drive?

Aaron: I drive a Polestar. You know, it has a good range. You know, it doesn’t look like a spaceship and it’s not gigantic. So those were kind of the criteria that I had coming into it. But I have some misgivings about it. The car gets over-the-air software updates, and so far they’ve improved my experience, but I realize that that’s not necessarily always going to be the case, right, that there might be an update that takes away a feature that I really liked or makes the car less reliable or changes its performance. I also know that I don’t really have a whole lot of control over those decisions. And so it makes me uncomfortable to realize that, you know, the folks who are pushing out those software updates really do exert a lot of influence over how I interact with this product.

Lauren: Mm-hmm.

Aaron: But that’s increasingly tough to avoid in the modern car market. I mean, you can’t buy a car, a new car, that is not driven in a really fundamental way by software code. That is just inescapable today.

Lauren: Yeah. Cars really have become, I think, one of the, the most important products in this right-to-repair conversation, really at the center of it. And Massachusetts has really been a vanguard state for this. I wanna talk about Massachusetts. What’s going on with the right-to-repair movement there? What’s the latest with cars there?

Aaron: Yes. So Massachusetts has been really crucial to this whole right-to-repair fight for a long time. Going all the way back to 2011 and 2012 when they passed, both through the legislature and through a statewide referendum, the first automotive right-to-repair law in the United States, which required auto manufacturers to make parts and tools and documentation available to consumers and to independent repair shops. And pretty quickly, by 2014, that was turned into a nationwide agreement between all of the major automotive manufacturers, the third-party parts companies and the independent repair shops. And so that’s really why automotive repair in the United States has been so much more accessible and so much more competitive than any of these other industries that we’ve talked about. So what’s happened more recently is, you know, a decade passes and technology changes. The Massachusetts right-to-repair law was enacted initially just as vehicle telematics systems were first becoming popular. And for people that don’t know, what we mean by telematics here is essentially wireless communication between your vehicle and, in most cases, your car dealer, right? They’re the ones that have access to the information, the diagnostics and performance data that your vehicle generates, sends that information back to the service department of your dealer wirelessly, and they can use that in the process of, you know, determining when service is needed or whether repair is necessary. And so now that those telematics systems are becoming more popular and more widely used, they’re displacing the standardized interface that cars have had since 1990. It’s an open interface, which means any independent repair shop or consumer that has the right piece of equipment can plug into that port and download diagnostic information. Manufacturers are getting rid of those. They’re starting to shift more of the information away from that standardized port and through their telematics systems, which makes it harder for independent repair shops to get access to that data. If they do want access to it, they’ve gotta pay a subscription fee to every single different automakers platform to get that data.

Lauren: Mm-hmm.

Aaron: And so the new Massachusetts law requires a standardized portal, basically, to get access to telematics data.

Lauren: And so, despite the fact that Massachusetts voters are overwhelmingly in favor of these laws, and it’s been voted into law, there are now lawsuits that are preventing this from really happening?

Aaron: Yeah, so a coalition of the auto manufacturers got together and brought a lawsuit to prevent the enforcement of the new Massachusetts law. That litigation has been stretching on for years now, and eventually the attorney general of Massachusetts decided, look, we’ve waited around for this judge long enough. A case is fully briefed. We’re gonna start enforcing this law, and if we lose the case, well then we’ll stop. But in the meantime, we actually have to put some real teeth behind this law that the voters have endorsed. And so that was the decision made from the attorney general’s perspective.

Lauren: And this is all happening against the backdrop of, actually, federal rules. The Biden administration has told the Federal Trade Commission to draft and enforce new laws around right to repair. So the country is moving in this direction, but there’s still resistance because manufacturers don’t want to lose control of the repair process and they don’t want people to fully own some of their products.

Aaron: Yeah, I think manufacturers have really strong economic incentives here. And they also have a lot of lobbying power, as you mentioned. We’re talking about, in some cases, trillion-dollar corporations that have, you know, compared to the sort of public interest organizations and grassroots movements that are fighting for these laws, they have essentially infinite resources that they can throw around to persuade or scare or misinform state and federal authorities about this issue.

Lauren: And one of the biggest arguments has been around security. Companies might say it’s actually dangerous for you to get in there and start repairing something that you don’t fully understand—like a car, or even to replace your own iPhone’s battery, or hackers could access the diagnostics port if we just give free open source access to everyone. That’s typically the argument, right?

Aaron: Yeah, we hear these arguments all the time. They are speculative, they are hypothetical, they are rejected by the overwhelming majority of security experts that I’ve talked to on this issue. They were also, going back to the FTC, examined in a years-long study that the FTC engaged in and eventually put out a report called “Nixing the Fix,” where the FTC says, yeah, we’ve heard the safety arguments and we’ve heard the security arguments, and we don’t see any evidence that they’re real worries. And I think that went a long way to convincing a lot of state legislatures that the kind of misinformation that they were hearing was not reliable. And so I think the FTC deserves a lot of credit for the progress that’s been made on the state level over the last year or two.

Lauren: Mm-hmm. What do you think the future of ownership looks like?

Aaron: Uh, bleak. I think there are opportunities for targeted interventions that improve things from the consumer perspective. I think right to repair is a really easy case to make. Despite the fact that I think it’s so easy and so intuitive, it’s taken a long time and a lot of effort to make progress. But I think the broader issues around ownership, they’re harder to articulate, they are harder to get kind of immediate buy-in from people, and I think the trade-offs are trickier. And so while I’m reasonably confident that we can see continued progress on the right to repair, specifically the general notion that I ought to control the things that I buy, I think, is gonna be a harder sell. So if I wanna buy a car and I don’t want over-the-air software updates, is that something I’m gonna be able to secure in the marketplace? I’m not totally convinced. I think consumers are really drawn in by convenience, and price, and sort of fancy bells and whistles in a way, that causes them to overlook the basic question of, “Is this thing gonna continue to operate?” Right? “Is the company that sold me my smart refrigerator gonna decide they’re gonna shut off the servers and now all of my smart features go away?” That’s something that I don’t think we’ve really contended with in the way that we need to.

Lauren: Mm-hmm.

Aaron: And I think it’s gonna continue to be a real problem.

Lauren: That promise of convenience can be so intoxicating because I do think there are plenty of consumers who say, “Well, you know, I’m just gonna have Apple swap out the battery on my phone or do the repair because it’s easiest to do it that way,” or “I want remote control of my, I don’t know, the temperature control in my home,” or “I want the over-the-air software update for my car.” And it’s almost like we’ve been lulled into these more frequent replacement cycles, understanding that some of our products only last three to five years now. And we’ve traded that in for convenience. I don’t mean to be more bleak or make you feel even more bleak, Aaron. I’m not sure our future looks like a generation of tinkerers who get to repair their own stuff and feel full ownership over things.

Aaron: Yeah, so I think it’s reasonable to envision and hope for a world in which 80 percent of people are doing the easy, convenient thing that sacrifices true ownership for the sake of, kind of, immediate payoff. I don’t begrudge people that choice if that’s the choice they wanna make, but I think it’s important for the 10 or 15 or 20 percent of us who do see this as a problem to have some alternatives in the marketplace so that we can still participate in culture and, you know, be dutiful consumers spending our wages to keep the economy spinning. We should be able to do that in a way that doesn’t sacrifice these broader principles. And if that means paying a little bit more, I think that is, perhaps, a reasonable trade-off. If that means not having the latest and greatest brand-new technology, but maybe you’re a generation or two behind, I think that’s OK too.

Lauren: Mm-hmm.

Aaron: What I worry about is a marketplace and a culture in which those options disappear and we’re kind of forced into a one-size-fits-all approach, and there I think we are really costing people something that they value.

Lauren: What are you optimistic about aside from the long-lasting career of Nic Cage?

Aaron: [Chuckle] Right now, again, after this recent hearing in Congress, I’m feeling as optimistic as I have in a long time about the chances of federal right-to-repair legislation. There are a couple of bills that are out there that I think have some real promise and, you know, I wouldn’t put money on it just yet, but I do think that we have a better chance of seeing progress there.

Lauren: That is indeed optimistic. I think we should leave this podcast on a high note, right?

Aaron: Yeah, that sounds great. I’m not used to that, but, uh, I’ll take it where I can get it.

Lauren: Right. And we urge everyone to download this podcast episode for as long as it may exist on their phone before it disappears. Um, Aaron Perzanowski, thank you so much for joining me on Have a Nice Future. I hope you have a very nice future of films.

Aaron: I’m looking forward to it.

Gideon: OK, Lauren, so it sounded when you were talking to Aaron as if you’re a bit on the fence about the upsides versus downsides. So on the one hand, nothing is yours anymore. You could have your music or your books taken away, you could have your cart switched off remotely or lose its functionality. You know, all of these things are taken out of your hands. And on the other hand, there’s a lot of convenience here. Access to all the world’s music, all the world’s books, over-the-air-software updates. Where do you feel like you come down?

Lauren: I think I am pretty firmly on the side of consumers should be able to repair their goods a little bit easier than they can now, or they should be able to choose who can repair their goods, and that those people should have access to diagnostics and tools and parts. I think there is a benefit from an environmental perspective to maybe not owning as much physical media or goods as we used to, to having this streamlining effect because things are in the cloud or we have access to things through our fingertips, we don’t have to buy physical media anymore. But, ultimately, this is not just about physical goods, right? It’s about ownership and data ownership, and we’re putting more and more control into the hands of these multibillion-dollar corporations that can force us into planned obsolescence cycles and make us think that we have to buy a new thing every three to five years, or decide one day that there’s a program we like watching and it’s there in our streaming service that we pay $10 a month for, and then it’s not. And I think that letting go of that control, it just becomes a slippery slope, and that consumer advocates are right to fight against that.

Gideon: I guess it’s kind of strange that these two issues of digital media—and the ownership thereof—and physical objects and the right to repair them are being treated as kind of part of the same question. I mean, they’re the same question in the sense that they’re both about power and control, and about large corporations getting power and control over the things that you, the consumer, used to control yourself entirely. But there are different issues because, as you said, digital media don’t pollute the environment in the same way and give you much more access to things. Whereas if you’re forced to replace things because they become obsolete or stop working or stop being serviced after a certain length of time, then that is actually contributing to environmental contamination.

Lauren: But I think that they’re related in that they fall under this legal framework that was introduced decades ago in the 1990s to sort of draft policies or regulations around an internet that has completely changed, completely evolved since then. And that, we need to reevaluate that, right? So when you look at something like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or something like Digital Rights Management, these things that were introduced to, you know, prevent copyright infringement or protect the assets of some of the companies that were working on building this technology and disseminating technology and devices. It’s now being used in such a way that it actually, I think is, it is having an adverse effect on consumers. And so, like a lot of framework that was introduced for the internet in the 1990s, it’s time to reevaluate it.

Gideon: I guess this still makes me question our preconception of what ownership is, because the notion that a thing is something that you own, and once it’s yours it’s yours and nobody can take it away from you, is contingent on things being physical, right? It would’ve made no sense for publishers to retain control of books, printed books, after you bought them because they were in your house. There’s no way a publisher could have then gone back into your house and, like, taken the book out and changed it. But books are just a storage medium. The thing that’s being sold, it’s not the paper, it’s the ideas in the book and the access to those ideas, right? Or the experience of reading it or the experience of listening to the music. And so the fundamental change the internet created was that it enabled the producers of these things to have access to them remotely, even after you had bought them. And so it’s not immediately obvious to me that the concept of ownership based on “this is mine and nobody else can touch it,” is necessarily the right concept. If we had invented ownership in the age when the internet already existed, we might have said, “Well, obviously you shouldn’t have total control of a thing, but the manufacturer can alter it or update it as time goes by.” Do you see what I’m saying?

Lauren: I do see what you’re saying, and it plays into this rather trippy idea, which is this idea of like, it turns out we own nothing.

Gideon: Mmm.

Lauren: And we don’t, we don’t really own anything. Right? I mean, I think that since the existence of physical goods, there have been different ownership models or structures, different forms of bartering, of loans, of rent to own. I think in the post-industrial era, that probably only increased. We’ve always had some form of subscriptions. You know, even if they weren’t digital subscriptions. So I think what you’re, what you’re picking at, is that existential question. Like, what does it really mean to own something?

Gideon: I, no, that I think I’m not, actually. I think I’m just saying that ownership is always a construct, and, you know, owning a house, owning the land that it’s on, owning any object is a construct. Like money as a construct or corporations as a construct. All of these things are constructs that we’ve built, we’ve created, to make society work, and we can choose to change them. And maybe what I’m saying is it’s not obvious to me that it’s wrong to change the construct of ownership. I think where I come down on the same side as you is that the common thread in all of this is that corporations are getting more power over individuals, and they’re getting to choose for us what can we have, what can we see, what can we change, how our experience is shaped. And that feels uncomfortable. It’s, it’s the power and control part. It’s less even about the concept of ownership itself.

Lauren: Right. It’s that the relationship has changed between “I give you this money for this good, and this is the exchange that’s supposed to happen, and this is the result that is supposed to come from that.” And all of a sudden it’s like, the merchant that you’ve paid is saying, “Actually, the terms have changed.” Yeah. And so within that construct, an imbalance has been introduced.

Gideon: Right.

Lauren: So the internet has created, you know, this incredible era of production and distribution and dissemination of goods and digital goods. But now the consumer is at the receiving end of it, saying, “Well, hey, like, what just happened to that thing I paid for?”

Gideon: Right. It’s such an interesting example of the flip sides of technology, right? The internet has this so-called democratizing effect in many ways and gives people access to things they didn’t have before, and tools they didn’t have before. And at the same time, it’s also a means of taking away ownership, and ownership as a form of independence. I think maybe for me, that’s the, the crucial thing here is that it’s about autonomy and the right to make choices for yourself.

Lauren: Hmm.

Gideon: One of the things that’s interesting about this topic is, what are the politics of right to repair and of digital ownership? Because I think of them as essentially progressive issues in this country, but there’s no reason why they should be. Right? Ownership—

Lauren: No.

Gideon: “Don’t interfere with my stuff” is also a deeply conservative value, and so I would think this maybe is cross-partisan, but do you get that sense?

Lauren: It is. It is actually a rather nonpartisan issue. There are people on both sides of the political aisle that generally support some of the right-to-repair bills that have been put across different desks across different states, because people who operate farm equipment or trade farm equipment, they’re facing this as well with John Deere tractors, and everyone has a smartphone. OK, maybe not literally everyone, but the overwhelming majority of the US adult population now has a smartphone. Also, people all have home appliances if you’re lucky enough to be housed and have nice home appliances. And so this is an issue that really affects people’s lives, and I think that it’s really complex because of some of those legal frameworks we talked about earlier, but at the end of the day it’s also not super complex. It seems rather straightforward when you say to a consumer, “Hey, you have a Samsung refrigerator, and it’s completely impossible to get it repaired without, you know, making several calls to the company itself, and them sending out an authorized dealer, and yada, yada, yada, but this is your refrigerator and it’s keeping your food cold, and you need it operating, you need it working.” That’s just something that I think people can understand no matter what side of the political aisle they sit on.

Gideon: What would it take for us to be able to demand terms and conditions that say, “Once I have downloaded this book, you cannot take it away from me.” You know, are there, or could there be two versions of buying it—you know, buying for life, and a buying not necessarily for life with a slightly different price. Well, we already have that. You can borrow books digitally, so why couldn’t we have borrowing and buying, and buying be a guarantee that that content is not gonna be taken away? I guess what I’m saying is that there’s—I see the potential for consumer advocacy and lawmaking to enshrine a certain kind of property ownership, even with digital goods, and to enshrine a right to repair or to refuse certain software updates, even when you have digital updates. And that that can coexist with these capabilities that the internet gives us, that it doesn’t need to be one or the other.

Lauren: Hmm. Right. So you’re describing ownership on a gradient scale. Basically.

Gideon: There could be ownership on a gradient and you could, yes, choose different points on the gradient if the laws allowed you to.

Lauren: Right. And then I think that would require protection of the consumer in those terms and conditions, which means avenues for enforcement. I mean, I think here in the United States, we tend to be a litigious society, so a lot of this stuff results in class action lawsuits. But it sounds like you’re suggesting both that there are more consumer options out there for ownership, people who are willing to perhaps trade the convenience for ownership. But then there needs to also be a way in which if all of a sudden your car manufacturer decides to yank away your heated seats, right? Or that movie you downloaded years ago suddenly disappears from your cloud library, that there’s recourse for that.

Gideon: Right. And at the moment we don’t seem to have those kinds of protections, and it sounded like Aaron probably isn’t very optimistic that we can get them.

Lauren: No. But the right-to-repair movement has made some pretty impressive strides, I would say, over the past five years or so. And there is federal support behind it now, which I think is encouraging. So, I don’t know, maybe this is one of the rare episodes, Gideon, where I feel like we’re ending on a slightly optimistic note, like there could be a more equitable future around ownership.

Gideon: Lauren, optimistic? This is so unlike you. What’s going on? What have you done with Lauren Goode? Bring her back.

Lauren: It’s my clone from the last episode.

Gideon: Ah, right, right.

Gideon: That’s our show for today. Thank you for listening. Have a Nice Future is hosted by me, Gideon Lichfield.

Lauren: And me, Lauren Goode. If you like the show, you should tell us. Leave us a rating and a review wherever you get your podcasts. And don’t forget to subscribe so you can get new episodes each week.

Gideon: You can also email us on nicefuture@wired.com. Tell us what you are worried about, what excites you, any questions you have about the future, and we’ll try to answer them with our guests.

Lauren: Have a Nice Future is a production of Condé Nast Entertainment. Danielle Hewitt from Prologue Projects produces the show. Our assistant producer is Arlene Arevalo.

Gideon: See you back here next Wednesday, and until then, have a nice future.

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