Week 10 somehow slipped through the cracks for me and I am making a late blog entry. As an owner of an object, such as a book, it is not uncommon for me to loan books to friends. It's also fun to participate in a “leave a book/take a book” scenario in a cafe, mini library on the street, or in some other context. Lending an e-book, on the other hand, was not initially possible. Amazon has since introduced a lending component to their Kindle whereby you can now lend a book to a friend for 14 days. Even libraries lend a book for a minimum period of 21 days with the possibility of renewal. I’m not sure Amazon allows an lending extension or if it can be lent to that same person more than once. This kind of constraint does not leave you feeling like you really own the object because it is a limiting framework.
Another example of ownership of a digital object that comes to mind is a bilingual terminology database that used to be called the Banque de Terminologie de l’Université de Montréal (BTUM). This Université de Montréal initiative was eventually acquired by the Translation Bureau of Canada with the goal of standardizing terminology throughout the public service, and was renamed TERMIUM. Fast forward, the database eventually became available to language professionals, largely translators, for purchase on CD-ROM whereby an annual fee was paid and the licence holder would receive updated CD-ROMs every three to four months. As they continued to expand the database and technology changed, the database became accessible online for a monthly fee. For the past six years, online access to the database has been free and it has been rebranded TERMIUM Plus.
At no point did I ever feel like I “owned” this object. I was merely paying for access to it, or renting it. Part of the difficulty in owning this was that it was not a static entity since the database was subject to updates, modifications, and further annotations.
You are not really buying the “object”; rather you are buying the rights to access and use the object under highly prescribed circumstances. The dematerialization of objects leads to a kind of symbolic ownership of objects. If we can't manipulate them, do we really own them? Certainly protection the measures built into these digital objects, along with digital object identifiers, are indicators of an implicit legal contract and to some extent redefine what ownership is.