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For our March episode, we dare to dive into the increasingly complex world of intellectual property law – a topic suddenly becoming ever more pertinent in the face of a global pandemic. Dave is joined by Aaron Perzanowski, a professor of law at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. We talk about how developments in the electronics consumer market are posing new complications in the relationship between manufacturers and consumers. Perzanowski’s latest book, written with co-author Jason Schultz, ‘The End of Ownership’ explores many of these questions.
The shifting nature of ownership
We ask first about ownership. How does the move from physical ownership to digital ownership affect our rights as consumers? Are the goalposts of this ownership shifting in a time where our ability to continue using our devices is becoming more and more mediated by the companies that sold them to us? How is user autonomy being influenced or slowly eroded? We looked to Perzanowski for some ideas in how we can become more informed and aware of our rights as consumers.
User license agreements use complex and legalistic language, making these contracts inaccessible to the average consumer. We make an effort to unpack terms such as DRM (Digital Rights Management) or EULA (End User License Agreement). In discussing this it becomes very clear the hidden barriers that companies can impose to minimise consumer rights.
Copyright during crisis
But the most immediately pressing matter we talk about in this episode is the recent use of trademark law to inhibit emergency responses to the current pandemic. Recently, those producing vaccines and repairing essential medical equipment ran into barriers, with patent holders suing (or threatening to sue) for efforts intended to save lives. We ask Perzanowski whether these laws should be upheld in such a time of global crisis.
Hoping for change
Looking further into the future of trademark law and the electronics industry, Perzanowski comments on how governments can make efforts to protect and support consumer rights. And finally, we explore why these actions need to be taken as soon as possible to ensure that we work towards a more sustainable relationship with our electronics. We cannot achieve this without more thought about the viability of tethered products.
- Read the first chapter of Aaron Perzanowski’s book here
- “The Tethered Economy” by Perzanowski, Hoofnagle, Kesari
- Wired: Best Buy Made These Smart Home Gadgets Dumb Again
- The Verge: A SoftBank-owned company used Theranos patents to sue over COVID-19 tests
- US PIRG petition to manufacturers to open up service documentation