April 24, 2014

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Misleading Term of the Week: “Content Owner”

Many discussions of copyright refer to “content owners.” The language of ownership is often misused in these contexts, for example by saying that Disney “owns” The Lion King, or by saying that I “own” the content on this site.

The simple fact is that I don’t own the content on this site – at least not in the same way that I own my car. All I own is the copyright on the content. The copyright gives me a certain limited bundle of rights, and leaves for you, the reader, certain other rights, whether I like it or not. Using the rhetoric of “content ownership” confuses the issue, by falsely implying that the copyright owners have more rights than the law really gives them.

(It’s relatively harmless to refer to “my book” or “my film,” as long as everybody understands that you’re not claiming ownership of the content but merely stating a relationship, just as you might refer to “my brother” or “my hometown” without implying that you own either one.)