Imposing rights and restrictions on digital content


READ: Why is the technology that prevents copying digital media considered evil?

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Once upon a time, you bought an e-book.An absolute classic that you’d love to keep in the family for generations.

You’d like to read it on your e-reader, on your laptop or on the home computer. Your sister at University, on a shared computer, wants to read it too.

Unfortunately for you, there’s a good chance you won’t be allowed to do most if not all of this and your e-book story could well be cut short.

Digital rights activists would blame DRM and call it evil.

Digital Rights Management or DRM refers to that technology that prevents unauthorised copying of digital content. It allows the digital files to be copied, opened or installed on a small fixed number of machines only.

It comes not only on e-books, but also bundled with many digital versions of movies, music, games and software, or the hardware that plays the content.

It attempts to make it impossible to create unlimited copies of media or share the files on peer to peer networks. This is meant to protect the copyright of the creator of the work, and cut commercial losses resulting from copyright infringement.

Digital rights and restrictions

However, according to the Free Software Foundation, DRM is more about “Digital Restrictions Management” that puts severe restrictions on consumer rights.

Trying to transfer your collection of DRM e-books from an iTouch to an iPhone, from an old e-reader to new, making a backup of a Blue-ray movie DVD, or to play your collection of digital music, legally downloaded from Napster on an iPod is made inconvenient, if not impossible.

Thus, customers buying DRM media complain about being ripped off.

Media distributors such as Amazon, who are using DRM on their products, have been accused of not only putting locks on the content, but also locking in users to the company.

“Amazon's DRM isn't about controlling copying, it's about controlling the industry,” says Cory Doctorow, sci-fi writer, activist and editor.

DRM also affects perfectly lawful uses in education, research, or non-commercial creative and cultural expression. Trying to get around DRM to use a 2 minute DVD clip of Gone With the Wind in what could potentially be an A grade presentation for class would be illegal.

“Impractical” technology

Ironically, DRM remains ineffective in the fight against piracy. For every digital book that comes with DRM, you could get a DRM-free digital version by someone who scanned a paper copy of the book. One that you could use on every device and as many times you want.

The technology is, for the most part, not hard to get around. Anyone who’s burnt DRM songs onto a CD and ripped them back into the computer in a DRM-free format could tell you that. But doing so, would be illegal.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (1998) in the US and the similar EU Copyright Directive in Europe are laws that criminalise any attempt to circumvent DRM.

The DMCA and UK’s Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Act (2002) allow for certain exemptions and a complaint mechanism. But as the 2009 study by Dr. Patricia Akester from the University of Cambridge shows, users eligible for the exceptions are either unaware of their rights or find the process “impractical.” With the simple tools available to get around DRM, many people turn to piracy.

Many music distributors, including Apple and Amazon have recognised the ineffectiveness of access control in trying to lock content creation and distribution. Since April 2009, Apple’s iTunes Store sells only DRM-free music.

Organisations are hopeful that e-books will soon be DRM free, thus increasing access to knowledge and information. Currently, less than 5% of books in the UK are published in an accessible format.

 

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