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You Don't Own What You Think You Own
The Computer Corner

January 21, 2024

by Charles Miller

I just finished reading an article titled "You Don't Own What You Think You Own" that described how changes in the U.S. Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) Article 8 over recent decades have changed ownership rules for stocks and other investments. Back in the day, when you bought stocks you received an attractive printed certificate, but no more. Today those investments are recorded electronically in computer databases. Without actually blaming it all on computers and the internet, the article I read made clear that your stock portfolio is now just numbers in a computer database, and technically it does not belong to you because it is part of the assets held by your broker. And were your broker to go bankrupt your investments portfolio could disappear because it was never really yours. That article reminded me that rules of ownership have also changed for many other things digital.

Software licenses are probably the least changed over the years. It has always been a misconception with some people that paying for a software program means you own it. Take time to read the fine print of the User License Agreement (EULA) and you will see that software makers almost never sell their software. What you are paying for is a license to use their software on their terms. The latest trend here is that a lot of software makers are moving toward a EULA that says you can use the software so long as you pay again every year or every month to continue using it. There is also the fact that some owners of the software now build in kill-switches to allow them to deactivate the software on your computer and apps on your smart phones if you fail to pay.

Years ago when music was sold on vinyl phonograph records, the ownership of that music was rather clear. You never had the right to duplicate it, because who could? You did have the right to sell your records, or give them away because the vinyl you paid for belonged to you. Then came advances in technology that made it possible to copy music, and sell music online for downloading. Legally that changed all the rules, and most people do not realize that music purchased and downloaded online does not belong to them; it is only rented, and the ability to copy, share, or even retain it is restricted. With few exceptions, everything I just wrote about digital music also applies to videos.

Books in digital form are a somewhat similar proposition. Books printed on paper do not seem to be completely going away, but from time to time I see one that is digital-only and that changes the rules. For one thing, digital distributions are made available to the buyer at the pleasure of the seller. Some owners of Amazon Kindle readers learned this several years ago when the company decided to pull a certain publication from its online store. Amazon not only removed the book from titles available for sale but also took the step, without permission, to delete that book off the Kindle readers of every customer who had bought and paid for it. Somewhat ominously, that book was 1984 by George Orwell.


Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant with decades of IT experience and a Texan with a lifetime love for Mexico. The opinions expressed are his own. He may be contacted at 415-101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at)


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