The modern world has been plagued by the misnomer of buying. The correct term for the economic exchanges commonly occurring today is “leasing”. In short, buying does not involve attached strings.
To understand the original concept of buying, we have to look this type of exchange prior to the American invention of patents as expressed in the Constitution. In other words, we could look at the etymology of the word and examine its degradation over time to understand where we are at today. We can still understand the original meaning of the world because it has not been lost in any other sector of business: only that which involves the direct exchange of new products. If you wish to buy an old item from someone or buy stocks, you expect to acquire (not inherit) the full rights of that item from the individual. I would present garage sales as being an excellent example, though it appears that patent and copyright protection applies to these items regardless of the number of hands they are passed on. Nevertheless, the buyer expects to receive all of the previous owner’s rights to the item.
Business between corporations still maintains the correct definition of buying, but it entails the purchasing of all the associated patents and copyrights necessary for a full transfer of power over a product or idea. This transaction can cost thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars – a price ordinary Americans aren’t willing to pay much less have the means to do so. Hence, businesses will lease these products to the public but under the false pretense of “selling” the item to the individual.
The word “lease” itself, though a better description of the transaction between company and customer, is itself insufficient to properly describe the transaction. In this transaction, there is a transfer of a great number of rights from the company to the customer. For example, the customer gains the right to hold and/or use the item indefinitely without having to make any additional payments (except in cases such as vehicles where full payment has not been made in the exchange). Furthermore, the customer can (usually legally) damage or destroy the item without outside permission or having the legal obligation to compensate the company for the destruction of the item.
In short, buying and selling are concepts that pertain to the full exchange of the rights of one individual over a specific item to that of another.
The concepts of buying and selling exist only in the context of constructionism. Thus, this is suitable for tangible, physical items, but with respect to digital items, there exists great ambiguity while at the same time a general understanding in the populous. That is to say, the buying and selling of a physical object is easy to identify: an item(s) is exchanged for another item(s), usually currency. To put this in somewhat scientific-reductionist terms: one clump of atoms is being swapped with another clump. The shift in ownership is understandable because exact physical quantities are involved. This is not so with digital “items”, because in reality, digital “items” such as files do not technically exist beyond the specific arrangement of electrons in a computer. These electrons were not exchanged in the transaction; rather, they were simply relocated from a power source, which is, for all legal purposes, completely unassociated with the transaction. Furthermore, the arrangement of these electrons is completely meaningless and needs to be interpreted by the computer operating system and processor before the person can acquire the desired result. Thus, what we can say about the “purchase” of digital items is that the transaction results in a desirable arrangement of electrons on a device (e.g. computer). Technically speaking, providing such an arrangement is called a “service”, not a product. Services are neither copyrightable nor patentable. Hence digital “items” cannot be “bought” except in the form of CDs, DVDs, or some other tangible medium.