03/05/2013 10:22 BST | Updated 02/07/2013 06:12 BST

The Digital Generation Demands Greater Ownership of Content

The ways in which music, films, TV programmes and reading material are purchased and consumed has transformed as a consequence of the online revolution. The digital industry has grown exponentially, and there has been a shift from the physical to the digital across all types of content and services. According to the Digital Generation research, a survey of over 3,000 UK and US consumers that have bought digital content online in the last 12 months commissioned by WorldPay, 70% of UK respondents and 75% US respondents expect that they will buy more digital products in the future than they do now.

While the general appetite for digital content is on the rise an interesting trend is emerging - a growing expectation and demand among consumers for increased ownership rights over the digital content they have purchased and greater freedom to sell / recycle or gift.

Last year it was reported that Bruce Willis intended to take Apple to court to enable him to bequeath his iTunes library. While the story arguably grabbed the headlines for the celebrity involved, it struck a chord with many that while we have purchased the content, we don't own it in the same sense we do a physical product.

Consumers are slowly becoming more aware of the t&cs around content ownership, and this is subsequently influencing their demands for how they wish to manage / recycle 'old' content.

However, as with the Bruce Willis case, there is some confusion around what consumers think they can do with their content and whether they can gift it.

According to the research, one in four in the UK and almost a third of people in the US think they can legally pass on their digital goods to a friend or loved one. 14% (UK) / 15% (US) believe they can sell it on and 16% (UK) / 18% (US) think they can part-exchange in return for new content. While 32% in the UK and 29% in the US are pretty confident it is illegal to do any of the above, quite a high percentage is uncertain about what they can do with their e-books, movies and songs.

What's interesting is the number of consumers that are not aware of the t&cs that exist around digital content. Legislation is already coming into force around the re-sale, recycling and re-gifting of digital content. For example, the Court of Justice of the European Union handed down a ruling in a software reselling case potentially making the resale of digitally distributed software officially legal throughout the EU. We can expect to see more and more of these cases as the boundaries of ownership are blurred.

However, the desire to pass content on, or even exchange old for new, may present additional revenue opportunities. Merchants, publishers and rights owners (those who own trade marks for digital products) should work together to capture new audiences at lower price points by offering a model that facilitates the transfer of content.

The e-book industry has been making great strides in this space. Amazon Prime, for example, allows users to lend and borrow books for free. When it comes to the public lending off content for libraries, HarperCollins's e-books expire after they have been lent 26 times and Penguin books expire after a year.

This might seem unfair to a consumer but physical products naturally wear out or get damaged so a consumer would need to buy a new version of the product to continue enjoying it. However, by applying physical good rules to digital content it will encourage consumers to demand greater ownership rights. Here lies the need to find that balance between ownership rights and monetisation opportunities.

Rights and ownership of digital content will become an increasingly discussed topic as the digital industry evolves, and merchants should see this as an opportunity to introduce new selling models such as 'premium pricing' where certain types of content can be gifted or shared for an additional fee, or recycled or exchanged for new content. As consumers build up digital content libraries over their lifetime, the demand to re-use, recycle or exchange content will become more common and may lead to a new generation of swap-shops!