DRM and the Balance of Copyright Law in Oman

Like all copyright laws around the world, the Omani copyright law is meant to draw a balance between the ability of the authors to make a living out of their craft on the one hand and the right of members of society have a fair and reasonable opportunity to access and use cultural works.

The existence of these two competing interests within copyright law means that copyright law is not meant to grant an absolute right to the author to control every single use of his creative works. To establish this balance, Omani copyright law has a number of mechanisms to ensure that copyright does not restrict society’s ability to access culture. These mechanisms include the limitation of copyright protection to the expression of ideas only and not ideas themselves (Article 4 of the law Omani copyright law), the limitation of the protection to the economic rights (Article 6), the availability of a number of exceptions to copyright protection (Article 20), and the limitation of protection to a specific number of years only after which the work becomes part of the public domain and may be used freely by all members of society (Chapter 7).

As copyright law has been difficult to enforce online, technology companies and the media industry created technological locks to restrict users from sharing content they buy on the internet. Such technologies are referred to as Digital Rights Management (DRM) and Technological Protection Measures (TPM). For example, movies sold on DVDs and Blu-ray discs can only be played directly from the disc and cannot be copied to a hard drive or a iPad. This technology is now used on a variety of computer software, eBooks, video games, digital movies, and music.

Of course,  as no technology is perfect, DRM technologies could be circumvented and hackers can crack the lock and copy the books, movies, and music from these files and share them on the internet. To ensure that those who circumvent DRM are discouraged from doing so, the industry lobbied governments to enact DRM-specific rules to make it a crime to break these digital locks, and as a result of Oman’s involvement in international trade, we now have a whole chapter in our copyright law that makes circumventing DRM a crime (Chapter 10).

DRM on its own would not be a big deal if it did in fact help combat piracy, but there is no evidence that DRM does so. We have had DRM around for years, but it is still as easy as ever to find illegal music and movies on the internet.  There are numerous reasons why DRM is bad for consumers and the industry, even Steve Jobs wrote an open letter about this in 2007.

The problem with DRM in the Omani copyright law is that it trumps the balance that the copyright law is meant to achieve. The current protection of DRM under Omani law is absolute and there are no exceptions to its circumvention whatsoever. For example, it is legal to copy a protected copyright work in Oman if you do so to quote it for a purpose of illustration or review, but it is illegal to do so if DRM is applied to this work. It is also obviously legal to copy a work for which the copyright term has expired, but it is illegal to do so if DRM is applied to such a work.

The objective of copyright law is to help make society richer with culture and knowledge, not ensure that multinational content companies make as much money as they can. Members or society includes students, authors, and innovators who need to have access to as much culture and knowledge as they can to learn, create, and innovate new works to help move our society forward.

The extent to which DRM is protection under the copyright law must be evaluated and reconsidered so that the true objectives of the copyright law are achieved.

(Photo credits: “Master” by Nate Lawson – CC BY-NC 2.0)

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