Intellectual Property Issues

Sorry to misuse this site but the subject of the issues of our intellectual content and property have been gnawing at me for months. So consider this one a public service announcement!

The problem is the move away from owning one’s own intellectual content that is produced using a computer. Yes, this is way off of the beaten path, but the emerging technologies are pushing us toward a place where the documents and other things we produce with specific software may very well not be our own in the near future.

Yes this seems fantastical but it won’t in a moment. For those who use company provided computers for work, what does your computer say when you log in? Is it something like this?


Yep, when you use your company’s IT resources, including their cell phone, you give up any right to privacy you may have had. This is completely right and completely ethical. If a company provides you with a tool to do your work, they own the tool and they own the work. But wait, there’s more!

If you work in any sort of position where you have the opportunity to create something that would benefit your company, that belongs to them, too. For instance, if you are a process engineer and you discover a way to improve your company’s operations by a significant factor because of your experience in their plant (and while on their payroll), then the improvement belongs to them. If you were to resign and try to sell that improvement back to them, you would get sued silly.

So, in these two literal and real examples, we see that when using the company’s resources we have no right to privacy and the work we do for them actually (and rightfully) belongs to them. You may be asking, “What does this do with my own personal intellectual property?” Here’s where things can turn pretty quickly. Check out Google’s Terms and Conditions here. Here is a screen shot to be sure we see the relevant portions:

Google owns your stuff

This paragraph immediately follows a line about how your content belongs to you. That’s great. The content you generate using their services belongs to you but they can do whatever they want to do with it. Lovely.

I recently tried to purchase a multi-license MS Office package for a couple Windows machines at my house. This product has been around for quite a long time and I was astonished that it isn’t actually possible to buy a multi-license MS Office unless you purchase their cloud based service. The cloud based service comes with 1 TB of cloud storage and only costs $99.99 for up to five pcs. But wait, that $99.99 is an ANNUAL charge. You don’t actually own the suite and once you save all of your data to their cloud, you have to rent YOUR OWN content from Microsoft. Fortunately one can still purchase the Microsoft suite for one pc, so I had to buy two of those, but at least my documents are my own…. for now.

Apple’s iTunes, probably the most popular music and entertainment service in history, has the same type of content problem. If you buy a CD and then burn it into iTunes, then you can move that music around all you want without a problem. But if you purchase a song through iTunes, you really don’t own that song and are limited with what you can do with the song. Some people have found this out the hard way after spending thousands of dollars to acquire a library of music they really are only renting.

Then we get to the apps on our phones and our phones in general. The phones are tracking us to an incredible degree. Many apps we use, especially the social media ones, are mining our location and other things we do with our phones. One of the biggest attractions to Apple’s iPhone is the way it backs things up. I don’t use any cloud services but still back my phone up to my laptop. When I get a new phone, all I have to do is plug it in to my computer and all of my data, apps, contacts, and everything is restored to my phone in a few minutes. Many people have taken to storing this data on Apple’s cloud service. I imagine Google (Android) and Windows phones have similar services and I know that Verizon offers this as well. A great many people are not only allowing third parties to possess their most sensitive data, they are even paying for it!

I don’t know where society is going to end up with these new realities in our data-based lives, but it looks disturbing. For those of us who embrace technological innovations and use them to enhance our lives, having to throttle back on technology is frustrating (and sometimes expensive) and can even put us at a disadvantage in the workplace. I just wanted to write these things down in one place so my readers can maybe “look up” from our devices and realize that our intellectual content and personal data is rapidly becoming someone else’s property. Just remember, if you don’t own the software or the drive where the content is stored, you don’t really own the content, either!