When you buy something – a book or a washing machine – do you own it? Can you use it as much as you like? Can you resell it as you please?

For most of the 20th Century, after the initial sale, the seller was happy enough to take the money and didn’t care what you did with the merchandise. Due to retail markup, wear-and-tear and depreciation, it just didn’t pay to try and resell stuff you bought at a store. One exception was items that became collectable, like stamps, coins, comic books and baseball cards. But if I bought a comic book, it would be years before it might accrue in value. And it might not.

In the 1990s, I purchased software for my employer – or thought I did. We used SCO Xenix, and later SCO Unix, on dozens of workstations. It turned out we didn’t actually own

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