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The future of digital media libraries and sharing

I’d like you to take a moment and reflect on just how much media you have collected in your life. How big is your music library? How many books sit on your shelf? Think about all the files and emails you have accumulated in your email client, all the movies you have on your hard drive or Blu-Ray or DVD or even VHS, and any video games you have scattered between your PC or consoles.

I know personally I have probably close to a terabyte of information that I’ve accrued, spread out across my shelf and hard drive, and attached to just as many usernames and passwords.


For now all these little compartmentalized files and systems had not been an issue. Until last week. I bought a book for my Kindle called “This Mighty Scourge.” It’s an interesting collection of essays that shines a unique light on the happenings of the American Civil War.

As I was telling one of my roommates about it, he mentioned he would be interested in reading it. Normally I could just say, “sure, you can read it when I’m finished with it” and hand him the book.

But with Kindle books it is not that easy. You have to go online, log into your account, click the book in question, then fill out a form to get the book rights emailed to the person, and it only lasts for 14 days.

That’s even if the book has been greenlighted for lending by the publisher. Some publishers won’t even allow their books to be lent out to other people. Thankfully the title I wished to lend is, but the time constraint on lending takes away from the leisurely nature that comes with friends lending books to one another.

Or think about your parents collection of vinyl. Sure large portions of it may not be to your taste, but there are plenty of great bands and songs that came out on vinyl in the ‘60s and ‘70s. So with the right playback device, these albums’ ability to play has no relation to the person who bought them.

But think about if your parent’s vinyl collection suddenly turned into an iTunes collection? Well now you can’t even borrow the songs your parents paid for. No matter how much you would like to try there is no way to merge or insert other peoples’ collections with your own. So all of a sudden, instead of just picking an album out of a box or off the shelf, you have to log into your parent’s iTunes account just to get that one song you like.

That’s even assuming that logging into your parent’s account doesn’t break the End User License Agreement (EULA). Did you know that for many content distribution systems like iTunes and Steam, sharing login information like that will result in a ban on the account and the loss of all accrued items within it. And just like that thousands of dollars disappear in a clock cycle.

Or what happens if the company in charge of your media goes under. Now it seems unlikely that Apple will go under anytime soon, but considering how strong car manufacturers were doing only 60 years ago and how they are doing today and how fast the tech world moves, it could happen.

If that were to happen, there would be no way to go back and download any lost or misplaced music files, no way to go back and download the music for your children or anyone you wished to pass it onto. So while vinyl and cassettes may be outdated and harder to play than mp3s, they are guaranteed to be passed on or resold after the original buyer moves on.


Now this article may seem to suggest that I am wary of digital media. That’s not true. I love how easy it is to obtain, to access, organize, and store. All I’m saying is that with this particular format, without some proactive thought, there may be some negative unforeseen consequences. So be aware, in this day and age just because you have paid for something doesn’t mean you own it.

Hamilton Reed is a senior computer science major. His columns appear Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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