Fight for your right to own media

photo of a vintage tv dvd player tapes and cassettes on a vintage cabinet
Photo by Julian Bracero on

Until recently, I was wholly moving toward all streaming media. I had unloaded a bunch of DVDs onto someone at Goodwill, along with some HD DVDs (yes, I chose poorly in the mid-2000s format wars). In my brain, I knew it was far easier to access my favorite films and TV shows through streaming or owning a digital copy.

Then, something changed. The tech bros decided that just because you had paid to own a copy of something didn’t necessarily mean you owned it; you were paying for the privilege of watching it when they’d let you.

And they could change their minds about that privilege any time they wanted.

This stance comes from the fact that when you buy physical media, copyright law says you own it, but streaming media is governed by “terms of service,” which none of us bother to read and are subject to change at any time.

What it boils down to is that you’re not actually buying the media; you’re purchasing a license to view or listen to it.

For me, the moment of change came when I wanted to plop down and rewatch some of Ron Moore’s excellent 2004 reimagining of Battlestar Galactica. Sadly, it’s nowhere to be found on streaming services now.

Damn, and blast, that was the final straw.

While stores are reducing or eliminating physical media, some of us refuse to give up, searching through eBay postings, local pawn & thrift shops, and online directories like Decluttr and to find great deals.

Also, great distributors like Kino Lorber and Arrow Video are continuing to release excellent films on physical media. Both services tend to serve niche audiences with an extensive back catalog–where else might you find a double feature Dr. Phibes set–and have decent pricing.

And you can’t forget about the Criterion Collection films, many of which you can find through Barnes & Noble–the company that just won’t give up in a battle with Amazon–to add to your collection at a great price.

Why am I going on about this? Because I believe what Ursula Franklin said, decades ago…

"Many technological systems, when examined for context and overall design, are basically anti-people. People are seen as sources of problems while technology is seen as a source of solutions." (Ursula Franklin, The Real World of Technology)

Streaming media services have become definitively anti-people. They really don’t care what we want, just that we keep paying for their service. The viewing options across streaming keep getting worse and worse, both in quality and quantity, and more services are combining to provide even fewer options for us lowly common folk.

The bottom line: buy physical media. More importantly, if you’re a creator, release your stuff on physical media. Teach our students about the value of owning something and not just renting it from someone else. Remind them that we must evaluate every technology to see if we are using it or if it is using us.

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