December 02, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

APIG DRM Inquiry: Does DRM make copyright law unbalanced?

Point 1: Does DRM distort traditional tradeoffs in copyright law? What damage does DRM do? Who are the winners and losers in DRM? How does this affect you?

Comments (13)

  1. dave:
    Nov 02, 2007 at 09:21 AM

    this might not be in the paper but i do have something to add. Lets take music since it's the easiest. If i buy a cd and later discover that i can't rip it to cd so i can save the original from the usual scratches and all, and i also find out that the publisher has installed a DRM, then i'm safe in declaring that my computer along with the music i just bought is not mine. Funny since i paid for them. And that is my major problem (outside the insanity of the length of a copyright term). It's my computer, my music and my cd. To even suggest that i would just hand over control to someone else is idiotic. Add to that the notion that anyone who burns a cd is a thief (thereby declaring the consumers to be music thieves) means i hope they go out of buisness very soon. This is a common sense problem (which i suppose proves the saying: common sense isn't) that doesn't require much brain power to solve. As to games i suggest the poster go check out stardock, wonderful game with no copy protection, and they are making money off it to boot.

  2. Theodore Hong:
    Dec 05, 2005 at 01:36 PM

    This is a good start - what I think we need to do is to come up with specific examples of uses of copyrighted material that are legal but would be potentially blocked by a DRM system. We should also adapt Felten's argument to cite UK rather than US law.

  3. Dominic Jackson:
    Dec 05, 2005 at 11:40 PM

    Here's an interesting example. The guy doing this is actually in the US where his actions would undoubtedly be "fair use" but probably not "fair dealing" in the UK.

    The BBC DVD boxset of the 2005 Doctor Who series recently released has an authoring fault on one disc - you can't play one episode in its entirety unless you choose play all and skip forward to the correct point. One chap tried to correct this by ripping the DVD (which necessarily entailed decrypting it) and reauthoring to fix the fault. Notice how the thread evolves with others not realising that what the guy has done is illegal and moderators trying to suppress the discussion.

    [Threads on this board are not permanent and do not get archived anywhere to this link will not work forever]

    Is it also worth commenting that the media industry remains in reasonable health despite the wide availability of DRM circumvention software? The EFF recently noted that the US copyright office blindly sticks to the mantra that "DRM is all that stands between the media industry and financial ruin" and I suspect some of our politicians may be inclined to do likewise.

  4. kenkil:
    Dec 05, 2005 at 12:35 PM

    DRM systems make the content more difficult to use- for legitimate users. Depending on the how the system operates, it is likely to-

    * Limit your choice of player/viewer product
    * Limit your choice of playback device or plaform (DVDs on Linux, iTMS music on non-iPods)
    * Make it possible for the content provider to enforce changes to the licensing agreement after the fact (as happened with iTMS)
    * Requires the installation of fiddly, non-standard software

    The choice arguments above ultimately stem from the way Copyright awards a monopoly over the content. Historically, this monopoly means that only one company can make CDs with particular music on them. But in the digital realm, with DRM, it seems that the monopoly will extend as far as enforcing the use of particular software- a reduction in consumer choice.

    One of the great benefits of digital content is its greater convenience- DRM runs the risk of making it less easy-to-use than traditional formats. This is a real loss of value overall to UK plc.

  5. kenkil:
    Dec 06, 2005 at 12:51 PM

    J - I see what you mean. But the photocopier example is not abstract. There is a system called "Euronics marks", a yellow pattern of circles which all colour photocopiers and commercial image processing software do not copy. This pattern appears on all Eurpean bank notes (on the

  6. kenkil:
    Dec 06, 2005 at 12:52 PM

    I tell a lie, it's called the "Eurion Constellation". See here:

  7. Suw Charman:
    Dec 19, 2005 at 12:09 PM

    Whilst you can continue discussing this post, any comments posted after this one will not be included in the ORG public consultation paper.

  8. Kevin Marks:
    Dec 21, 2005 at 12:35 PM

    DRM arrogates law enforcement to a dumb mechanism. The computer program acts as judge, jury and executioner, and it is controlled by the publisher. It is an attempt to recreate through technological fiat the publisher dominance, at the expense of both readers and authors, that the Statute of Anne, and subsequent UK copyright laws, were created to fight. Just at the time that computer-based editing, and internet publishing enables all of us to become publishers of our own creative works, the DRM lobby want to re-establish a privileged role for publishers, like the 17th century Stationers monopoly.

  9. J:
    Dec 06, 2005 at 11:03 AM

    Kenkil (comment 4)

    I agree with your points, but don't see the problem. If some companies want to make their products harder to use, that's fine by me. I don't want to see the government try to legislate good product design, or enforce ease of use by law. I'm confident that the market will filter out those companies that make their products undesirable. Certainly way more confident than I am that government legislation will.

    The only issue is whether these companies, in seeking to make their products harder to use, infringe on our rights. There are two main ways this might happen:

    1. They prevent, practically, various fair uses.

    2. They convince the government to prevent, legally, various practical actions (presumably ones to solve the problem created in step 1).

    Of these, 2 is more concerning than 1, although both are an issue. Suppose Xerox created un-photocopyable paper. I don't have a huge problem with that. You could print sensitive documents on the paper, and rest safe in the knowledge that they won't spread so easily.

    Someone wishing to make fair use of the document still can - they can re-type it or copy it out longhand or whatever. Yes, it sucks, but so what, there's no onous on companies to help us make fair use of their material.

    Now suppose Toshiba make a new photocopier, capable of copying Xerox's new paper. That sounds great to me. Progress and all that. Might piss Xerox off, but that's no concern of me or the government.

    Now IF Xerox then start lobbying the government to criminalise, or somehow restrict Toshiba's new photocopier, then I have a problem. And yes we are starting to see that happen. But THAT is the fight - not the issue of whether one day all paper will be uncopyable by normal copiers. That issue is something markets can be left to decide.

  10. J:
    Dec 06, 2005 at 10:26 AM

    "s it also worth commenting that the media industry remains in reasonable health despite the wide availability of DRM circumvention software?"

    I think this is a weak argument, as the industry (in general) makes so little of its revenue from DRM content.

    If you are willing to look at specific niches, you can probably argue either way. I know that games companies who publish excusively for the PC platform have a real financial problem with illegal copying, and I think you can make quite a case for how better (i.e. harder to circumvent) DRM would financially help them.

  11. Martin Coxall:
    Dec 03, 2005 at 11:59 PM

    "DRM is unbalanced because it removes the scales of justice from the picture - no scale, no balance."

    What does this mean? You mean that because it tips the scales away from thieves, and in favour of legitimate rights holders, DRM is 'unbalanced'?


  12. Simon Gibbs:
    Dec 04, 2005 at 10:56 PM

    Not theives, consumers.

    And when I say it removes the scales of justice, I mean exactly those scales applied exactly to consumers. You must be referring to some other scale which I suspect is less relevant to the activities of law abiding consumers.

    A 100% effective DRM system, or a flawed system backed up by anti-circumvention law, places absolute power with the content owner. They, in effect, decide whether a use is permitted and they do so without discourse to the courts or legislature. The programs are limited in their ability to be fair because they use simple boolean logic and have access to only limited data about the context.

    One of the linked papers is by Edward Felten, an excerpt follows:

    "Even if full information about the circumstances were available, applying the four factor fair use test would require highly sophisticated AI. [..] For instance [..the test] requires reasoning about the economics of a particular market, a task even well-trained humans find difficult. [..] A DRM system that gets all fair use judgements right would in effect be a "judge on a chip" predicting with high accuracy how a real judge would decide a lawsuit challenging a particular use. Clearly, this is infeasible with today's technology."

  13. Simon Gibbs:
    Dec 03, 2005 at 04:51 PM

    Inherently yes.

    Copyright law is a law like any other, and guilt is traditionally decided by human judges and jurors with the aid of opposing lawyers who are also (mostly) human beings.

    DRM puts the programmer in the role of police, prosecutor, judge and jury. It is the programmer that decides the scheme by which evidence is gathered and evaluated, and *whether* any evidence is gathered or evaluated. It is the role of the programmer to emulate or replace the mental processes a jury of his peers and the mental processes of well trained and experienced judges. It is the programmer who decides what possible relief can be granted to each of the opposing sides, a role traditionally held by Parliament.

    The programmers work for the content owners, not the content users.

    DRM is unbalanced because it removes the scales of justice from the picture - no scale, no balance.

    See also:

    PS this comments system does not work in Firefox and the box is too wide in IE.