This is not a video

Sometime in the early 1990s I was visiting my friend Ephraim and his family. We went to the video store to rent a video, and on the way out the door Ephraim held up the box and said to me “this is not a videotape”.

I said “Of course it’s a videotape”. He said no, that’s just incidental. It’s actually a physical brick that video rental places distribute so that customers will understand that they are renting intellectual property. Customers need to bring the brick back to the store, thereby forcing them to acknowledge that they need to relinquish the intellectual property when they are done renting it.

Because concepts like “intellectual property” are somewhat abstract, a system was developed to make people carry around these bulky boxes with pictures on them. Ephraim went on to explain that the technology was already sufficiently developed that the videotapes were really unnecessary, but it wouldn’t serve the industry’s purpose to make them virtual. Without the boxes with tapes inside them, people might not understand that they were paying only for a temporary license to view a movie.

At the time I thought Ephraim’s comment was insightful yet a bit weird. Now of course – fifteen years later – the rest of the world has caught up with him. The boxes have indeed become virtual, and the very problems and misunderstandings he predicted are part of the fabric of our lives.

Because the music industry did a bad job explaining to people that a digital download is merely a limited license to intellectual property, rather than a transfer of ownership, the entire industry was brought to its knees.

The movie industry seems to be doing significantly better in making the transition, but the jury is still out. I would say that all in all there is now a greater awareness on the part of consumers – now that there is no physical brick to serve as a token – that they are actually paying for a limited license to intellectual property.

One thing is for certain: It sure is nice not to have to bring the brick back to the video store when you’re done watching the movie.

One thought on “This is not a video”

  1. Back in the day when people bought most of their software on CDs, it was apparently the rule that the box had to be REALLY BIG, so people thought they were getting something worth the $300. or so it cost. Most of the box was air, perhaps hefted up by a REALLY BIG manual (which could of course have been just another few MB on the CD), but if it looked and was packaged as small, people would be loathe to buy it.

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