Ownership in the Digital Age

Digital products are always approximations of reality. They get as close enough to reality to be acceptable for the user.

The “photographs” that are being “stolen” are not really photographs at all. They are digital approximations (so many bits wide by so many bits tall with so many bits used to pick a color).

And even worse they use more approximation techniques to reduce the overall size of the file.

We’re not passing around exact copies of someone’s art. We’re passing around digital estimations of that art.

Lane Hartwell still has the original photo she took of Owen Thomas. What we can easily copy and pass about is the “jpeg” file that

Wired magazine is offering for use with our browsers.

Most of the music we are listening to is a quality reduced file approximating the original sound recording. The approximation is suitable for most of our uses to avoid dragging around good sound reproduction systems.

Life is increasingly full of such compromises as art, media, news and even social interaction shift to a digital interface.

The most profound aspect of the digital revolution is the freeing of the artist to create and share work without any of the usual gatekeepers that we’re required to distribute their work before.

This freedom of creation allowed the Richter Scales to make a CD and make a music video from one of the songs and reach an audience of millions without any complex business or financial transactions.

But they learned that there are years of “copyright” laws designed to protect anyone from duplicating art. And their work was removed from distribution and they re-mixed it without out those infringing bits.

But the fact exists that we all make copies of those very same bits every time we visit:


Lane still has the original “raw” image and we can see (and save by the way) the digital approximation of her cameras output.


Music, art, photography, film are all easy to create digitally. And easy to modify. Some think this creates the culture of the amateur.

If an amateur is someone that creates work out of love of the act and shares the results: then I hope they are right.

We should all do something for the love of it and share it with the world.

And a small, very talented or lucky, portion of us will be lucky enough to get paid for that work.

I’d be very happy if they could do that without using lawyers to attack or censure amateurs.