DRM Wars: Round Two

For a couple of years those opposed to DRM have been feeling rightly pleased with the state of affairs. Technological protection measures have proved to be unpopular with the public and with many creators, as they impose restrictions on how consumers can make use of the content they have purchased. As large digital music stores moved away from DRM, it was felt that restrictive practices were a thing of the past.

However, there have been several incidents that have brought DRM back to the top of the IP agenda. Amazon removed several purchased books from Kindle devices thanks to the built in protection which allows the provider to unilaterally delete content from the device. As some people have pointed out, this is akin to someone coming into your library and burning your books. Ironically, the books removed were Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984.

Then Steven Metalitz, counsel for the RIAA and MPAA, has fuelled the polemic by stating that consumers should not expect to be able to keep whatever they purchase forever. He wrote:

“We reject the view that copyright owners and their licensees are required to provide consumers with perpetual access to creative works. No other product or service providers are held to such lofty standards. No one expects computers or other electronics devices to work properly in perpetuity, and there is no reason that any particular mode of distributing copyrighted works should be required to do so.”

How dare we expect not to have our purchased content removed unilaterally by copyright holders? To make matters worse, now the Associated Press has incurred in almost universal derision by announcing that it will start releasing all of its content wrapped in technical DRM designed to disallow “bad journalism”, in other words, it will tag its content with rights management information in order to track down content. They say:

“The registry will employ a microformat for news developed by AP and which was endorsed two weeks ago by the Media Standards Trust, a London-based nonprofit research and development organization that has called on news organizations to adopt consistent news formats for online content. The microformat will essentially encapsulate AP and member content in an informational “wrapper” that includes a digital permissions framework that lets publishers specify how their content is to be used online and which also supplies the critical information needed to track and monitor its usage.”

So, their system is pretty much for tracking usage of AP content. This is not a technological protection measure as such, but rather rights management information (RMI) in accordance to Art. 12 of the WIPO Copyright Treaty. I have to say that I am not as outraged with AP’s announcement as most of my fellow bloggers. While there has been some considered comment on the subject, most of it has been rather shrill, and it clearly does not distinguish correctly between TPM and RMI. The removal of RMI is also the subject of enforcement, just as the circumvention of technological protection measures is, but it has been hardly litigated in the courts. It is still early to ascertain how exactly will AP use this new technology, so I will hold comment until I have seen more details.

Nonetheless, it is clear that we are being presented with a resurgence in DRM from some sectors, so we should not be lulled into a false sense of complacency.

Comments 2

  1. We reject the view that copyright owners and their licensees are required to provide consumers with perpetual access to creative works. No other product or service providers are held to such lofty standards.

    Absolutely. When you buy food, cars, clothes, furniture, tools, information technology, hair care products or pet food they can all be taken away from you by the manufacturer without even a moment's notice. Why should CDs or DVDs be any different?

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