Pet Peeves: We Don’t Own Downloads

Ownership has its privileges. When we own things, we can do anything we want with them—share, loan, sell, etc. Not so with downloads.

According to the law, we cannot resell our purchased digital downloads. If we stick to the letter of the law, you can’t even leave your NAS-full of purchased music to your kids upon your demise. WTF?

I buy used cars because, as we all know, a new automobile devalues faster than you can say MP3 once it leaves the showroom. But at least you can resell a car. Not so with downloads. Of course you can, on the black market, but guess how much your beloved digital music library is worth? 50% of its original value? Think again. For all intents and purposes, it’s worth nothing.

So what’s a music-loving, band-supporting consumer to do?

  1. Buy vinyl
  2. Subscribe to a lossless streaming service

Thanks to the vinyl revival, many new releases are available on record and records are things we actually own. They are also beautiful objects and often contain valuable information like liner notes, lyrics, and fabulous photos. In short, art. What’s more, some LPs actually increase in value over time!

These days, many new records also come with free downloads and when you buy records from one of my favorite places to buy music, Bandcamp, that download isn’t a crappy MP3. It’s lossless. Why does Bandcamp give away downloads when you buy a record? Because Bandcamp understands their value.

The moral of the story being: A digital download is nothing—it is hardly a thing because it has no thingness (apologies to Heidegger). It may as well be a text document as opposed to a book and no one collects text documents.