Tuesday, June 06, 2006

UK MP's report & recommendations on DRMs

A group of UK MP's ( the APIG) has released a report of its recommendations following an inquiry into digital rights management (DRM). The inquiry received over 90 written submissions from consumers, think tanks, libraries, print media publishers, the film and music industries and lawyers. A cross selection of the respondents were also invited to give evidence to APIG officers .

Our submission was quoted a number of times:

The recommendations are good as far as they go, such as : a wider exemption for academic research; better labelling of DRMs for consumers so that it will become crystal clear to consumers what they will and will not be able to do with digital content that they purchase; an investigation of the potential ability of these systems to stifle competition and undermine the EU single-market; and a reminder that DRMs that mess with consumers equipment, as Sony’s root kit recently did, could be subject to criminal sanctions .

Importantly it also recognises that much of the policy leading to new copyright laws is made by 'patent office bureaucrats ' and has not been subject to scrutiny by politicians or the public. Its remedy for this is to have the British Library act as an 'honest broker' and convene a ‘UK stakeholders’' group of all interested parties to discuss the issues.

There are inevitably some disappointments: it recognises that the UK legal concept of 'fair dealing' (which defines how people can use copyright material) is narrow and restrictive , but doesn't recommend change, just better labelling; it stops short of recommending a better system for redress if DRMs breach user exemptions and limitations to copyright( the problems raised are too theoretical) and despite the problems thinks interoperability ( enabling digital content to play on different machines) should be left to the market.

The report is also worth reading for the insight it gives into the views of the different players. Too often the 'industry' is seen as one mass with the same views. Here its clear that there are differences in approach between the big record companies ( who generally support the use of DRMs) and smaller players ( who generally don't). Between content owners and equipment manufacturers, who are worried that they won't be able to make new products because of restrictive licensing. One of the best examples of this was given by Intel , who explained that there were no portable video jukeboxes on the market because it was against the DVD consortium rules ( who essentially control the licensing of the technology to unlock videos) to create a portable device.

They also gave a warning: that suggested remedies for over broad TPMs (that stop you doing what you are legally entitled to do) may not work in the future. Many activists argue for a legal right to break ,'circumvent' over broad TPMs. The Report warns that it is quite possible that in the future TPM systems will become unbreakable. Its therefore no use asking for laws that allow you to circumvent TPMs, rather they suggest it is better to have the ‘right to remove’ ie a requirement for the removal or partial removal of the lock itself (the TPM system) from the product. However, the MP's don't follow up this line of argument with a formal recommendation.

The 30 page report can be downloaded as a PDF from APIG’s website.


For those of you with a shorter attention span, here is the official report summary as provided by APIG’s secretariat of the inquiry’s key recommendations with the reasons for them ( from a link on the Open Rights Group Site):


Read on:

Press Coverage:
The Register: www.theregister.co.uk/2006/06/05/apig_report_ready

The BBC: www.news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/5041684.stm
UK digital rights group: Open Rights Group : : www.openrightsgroup.org


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