[Fsfe-ie] BEUC position paper on DRM

Teresa Hackett [default] teresahackett at eircom.net
Fri Sep 17 03:33:59 CEST 2004

Worth taking a look at the new BEUC (European consumer organisation)
position paper on DRM.

Below is a general article by Danny O'Brien.


Stand up for your rights
New Scientist vol 183 issue 2463 - 04 September 2004, page 15
Danny O'Brien

Overzealous copyright enforcement is changing the
way we enjoy books, music and film. We risk
losing some of our most basic freedoms, says
Danny O'Brien

THERE are some things in life we take for
granted. Among them are the ability to lend each
other books, record TV programmes, back up
expensive computer programs, and sell on our old
CDs when we've got tired of them.

The fact that we are able do these things is not
the result of magnanimity on the part of people
who hold the copyright. Far from it. It is
integral to the bargain that governments have
brokered between copyright holders and the
public. In the US, copyright owners can't ban you
from reselling the CDs you have bought because of
the legal doctrine of First Sale. In the UK you
can record TV coverage of the Olympics while
you're out at work to watch at some more
convenient time because in 1988 the government
said time-shifting was a permissible act.
Copyright owners, understandably, don't like
these limits on what they can stop people doing,
and lobby hard to remove them. But they do have
to obey the law.

That could change. New technologies are giving
copyright owners the power to control the time
and place we can view or play digital versions of
music, films and text so tightly that we run the
risk of losing these rights altogether. That
would mean no more buying or selling of
second-hand CDs or videos, or even lending them
to friends. More seriously, it could affect the
compromise at the heart of copyright: that all
copyright material should, after a reasonable
time, return to the public domain and be free for

These new restrictions are being made possible by
a technology called digital rights management
(DRM). To see how it works, take for example
Apple's iTunes service. Music sold on the iTunes
site is encrypted and can only be unlocked by a
compatible player with the correct password. When
you buy a new song, you hand over the unique code
that identifies the player it will be used on,
and that is used to generate the encryption key
needed to play it back. Though you can copy the
track onto a small number of other players, the
fact that your password and user name must be
entered to play it makes selling it on to someone
else virtually impossible.

The principal reason DRM is so heavily promoted
is to prevent digital piracy. But it does more
than that. Copyright owners want to shift the way
we consume entertainment - from selling us
ownable copies of their content, which we can
lend, exchange and sell as we please, to giving
us restricted access to that content under rules
they lay down. So, if you buy a film online or on
DVD, they could charge every time the film is
played on a machine that isn't yours - which
means no more lending or swapping films. And
while you currently have a right to pass on
second-hand books to others, you don't
necessarily have that right with DRM-protected

In April, highlighting just how important DRM
technology will soon be, Microsoft and Time
Warner announced their intention to join forces
and buy a controlling stake in ContentGuard, a
company that owns many of the key DRM patents.
Rivals cried foul when they realised that this
would give Microsoft a huge share of DRM patents.
Add to that its dominant position in computing
and it is no surprise that last month the
European Commission (EC) decided to launch an
investigation into whether Microsoft is gaining a
monopoly position.

But this is not enough. The EC seems to have
completely missed the bigger picture, which is
that copyright owners are using DRM to trump the
legal rights that society has till now expected
from copyright holders in return for the
privileges granted to them. If rights we now take
for granted are to be protected in the era of
digital media, action is needed now. At the very
least, the EC and other regulators should force
Microsoft and other DRM patent holders to find
ways of making DRM technology compatible with
these rights before the technology is deployed
more widely.

There is a potential time bomb ticking here. Part
of the bargain with authors of copyright material
is that their work will be released into the
public domain after they have been dead for a
specified time - currently 70 years in Europe and
the US, and 50 years in Australia. This could
vanish. No existing DRM system is programmed to
unlock itself after the copyright on its contents

Future generations could suffer a tragic loss.
Some music and films could disappear for ever if
files become inaccessible when the original key
holders have vanished. Historic government and
business documents could be lost in the same way.
Instead of enlarging the sum of public knowledge,
DRM could destroy it.

Investigating Microsoft's monopoly on the DRM
patents is all very well. But far more important
is for regulators and law makers to explore the
fundamental question of how to ensure that rights
which we all take for granted today are not swept
away by a wave of new technologies whose
implications we neglected to come to grips with.
Of course copyright owners have a right to
protect their future interests. But not at the
everyone else's expense.

Danny O'Brien
Danny O'Brien is a writer based in San Jose

File-share snare

New Scientist vol 183 issue 2463 - 04 September
2004, page 5

THE cat-and-mouse battle over the sharing of
copyright material such as music files on the
internet is intensifying.

Last week the US Department of Justice announced
it had targeted a group called The Underground
Network. The FBI gained access to the network by
packing two computers with copyrighted material
that it made available to other members of the
network. That allowed it to identify five other
hubs sharing large volumes of copyrighted films,
songs and software, and on 25 August the FBI
raided five locations across the US, seizing
computers, software and computer-related

In a separate development, the Recording Industry
Association of America announced a new round of
lawsuits against more than 700 individuals,
claiming they have violated copyright by sharing
music files over the net.

The action comes a week after an appeals court in
San Francisco ruled that the makers of two
leading file-sharing programs, Grokster and
StreamCast, had not infringed the copyright of
materials downloaded using their software,
because they do not use central servers to point
to copyrighted material.

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