Consumer Responsibility

This is something that has bothered me for a long time, and in light of the recent goings on in the world of consumerism I feel compelled to write about my feelings. First off, most people need look no further than in the mirror to find who's to blame for the current state of the market / consumer relationship and the state of the products and services available. Why? Because it is the consumer who has the power! If the consumer doesn't spend their money on a product or service, said product or service won't succeed. It's basic supply and demand which anyone with a high school education should have learned. So, companies build inferior products or provide services that don't quite live up to the consumers expectations. Whose fault is it that they persist? The consumers of course! Consider the recent announcement concerning Philips Electronics filing for a patent on technology that will prevent consumers from changing television channels while a commercial is being displayed. How is it the consumers' fault that Philips was able to file such a patent? Because consumers have been having their rights slowly stolen from them for years, often times under the guise of acronyms that they hardly know the definition of let alone fully understand the consequences of, and likely assume to be a desirable feature rather than a loss of functionality or freedom.
Take DRM (Digital Rights Management) for example. Many portable media players and associated online media services tout DRM as if it were an important feature that consumers should look for and demand to be included in the products and services that they buy. The truth of the matter is that DRM is nothing more than an attempt to keep the consumer from having total control and freedom over the media related products and services that they pay for, often forcing consumers to purchase numerous copies of the same media just to use it on more than one specific device. Companies (yes they are companies, not organizations, they operate for profit whether they say they do or not) such as the RIAA and MPAA want you to believe that you aren't buying the actual media, but rather a license to use it. Now they've taken it a step further in some cases, stating that the license should only cover using the licensed media in conjunction with one specific device.

Given the licensing and rights devolution of the last decade it should come as no surprise that a company like Philips, who has a tremendous history of licensing everything under the sun, would devise a patent for a technology that would force consumers to suffer through commercials and other forms of advertising (can you visualize TV pop-ups) while watching television, or pay a premium on top of what they already pay to have commercial free viewing or the ability to change channels during commercials. People are only now beginning to see just how dubious these companies are. Remember the Sony / BMG "rootkit" fiasco earlier this year? Of course from their point of view you have no true rights to the media that you use anyway. The way they see it you aren't purchasing the actual media itself but rather a license to use it, and ever increasingly it's a license to use it only in a particular form that they specify.

So when you're busy complaining about how unfair it is that you can't transfer the 99 cent song that you purchased from iTunes over to your home theater system or play it in your car without going through hoops (that may very well violate the Terms of Service that you blindly agreed to, and quite possible break the law as well), stop and remind yourself that it is you, the one who purchased that 99 cent DRM restricted garbage, that has the power to change things. Just because you can bypass the DRM on that iTunes download doesn't mean that you should or that you should pay for such merchandise in the first place.

The only way that companies are going to stop stealing consumer freedoms is for consumers to quit paying them. They don't care that you can bypass DRM, you're still paying for DRM enabled devices and media plus once you do they have the RIAA and MPAA waiting in the wings looking for the opportunity to say "see, we told you so". The same goes for new technologies such as the proposed new forced advertisement viewing system by Philips. If you think that consumers have no power over what companies impose on them via the products and services they produce just ask entertainment software maker Ubisoft how it feels about Starforce copyright protection. After a 5 million dollar class action lawsuit and consumers threatening to boycott the company they hastily decided to drop Starforce protection from all future products.

It's time to take a stand and let companies know that consumers refuse to be forced in to anything. You, with the money in hand, you have the power and the voice. Without your money they have nothing, so speak up, and let them hear what you have to say.

View: Philips Attempts to Patent Advertisement Enforcing
View: Gerard Kleisterlee, President & CEO, Royal Philips Electronics Global Entrepolis, Captains of Industry Conference, Singapore September 27, 2005 - "By year-end 2004 we had registered over 115,000 patents"
View: Citizens Guide to DRM
View: Neowin Sony rootkit discussion
View: Ubisoft class action lawsuit

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