Piracy in Oman on the Rise?

Piracy in Oman

A crazy article was published earlier this week on the UAE’s The National stating that game and software piracy in Oman is ‘resurfacing’. The article interviews a random Omani game shopkeeper who claims according to his own statistics that young people in Oman spend a total of a million Omani rials on pirated software on monthly basis. According to his statistics, the local economy loses 30 to 40 million rials a year because of pirated software.

There is no doubt that these stats are completely rubbish. The small time shop keeper somehow assumes that ‘young people’ go and buy physical disks to pirate their games and movies, when in reality the majority of illegal downloading obviously occurs over the internet and does not require young people to spend a 1,000,000 Omani rials.

The justifications made by this person for the ‘resurfacing’ of piracy are not only illogical, but they are simply false because expats can still work in computer shops and do sell computer games and software.

Being an honest gamer who buys legitimate games is very difficult in Oman, original games take months to arrive and when they do they are usually sold at astronomical prices. The article itself claims that it does not make sense for young people to pay RO 40 when the pirated copy costs RO 1. The truth is that even honest gamers find it unreasonable to pay RO 40 (more than $100) when the same exact disc is sold in the states for a MAXIMUM of $60.  Many gamers, including myself, choose to buy grey area imports and have it shipped from the US for a cheaper price, than buying the grey area imports sold in these stores for double the price.

I am really not sure that piracy in Oman is ‘resurfacing’ – because it really never went down. In the age of digital piracy and bitTorrent, the only solution to the problem would be through educating people about the impact piracy has on our own culture and economy. It is no wonder that there are no game developers in Oman when it is impossible to make profit of any game in this market.

Omani Bloggers and Copyright

Copyright Infringment - OmanForum

A bizarre event occurred today in which expat blogger Angry in Oman was shocked to see a post she wrote on her blog posted in OmanForum under a username identical to her blog name. Angry in Oman was outraged because it seemed as she personally made those posts on the forum and the blog post did not tell the whole story of the incident mentioned making people make the wrong assumptions about what really happened.

It eventually turned out that this was a new forum feature introduced by OmanForum’s administrator for which he thought it would be ‘a good idea’ to copy other people blog posts in the forum because it makes ‘the forum more interesting’ and gives the author ‘extra exposure’. The administrator of OmanForum removed the thread after several members complained about the issue, however, he did not seem to be convinced that he did anything wrong.

For some reason, many people assume that crediting the source gives them the right to copy it, which is obviously not the case. If Neo, OmanForum’s administrator, has been for a long time copying articles from elsewhere and crediting them doesn’t mean that what has been doing is legally or morally right. The exceptions to the protection of copyright n Oman are very limited in scope, and copying for the purpose of “making the forum more interesting and giving the author extra exposure” is obviously not one of these exceptions.

Technically, Angry in Oman can sue for copyright infringement, but obviously she will not do that as it compromise her identity. If she ever were to take legal action, she should be able to force OmanForum to remove all infringing content, and she migh even be able to ask for monetary compensation because OmanForum is a business venture that sells advertising and commercially benefits from the copyright infringement it undertakes as material copied from elsewhere is used to attract more readers and more advertisement impressions.

DRM Impact on Lecturers, Students, and Researchers


(Photo credits: Thomas Favre-Bulle)

The CDPA 1988 provides instructions and students with a number of defences to copy films, sound records, and broadcasts for the purpose of making a film or a film soundtrack for the purpose of instruction. (Section 32 and 396Z).

According to Akester, around the UK universities, film lecturers use clips taken from films for a number of subject such as film analysis and film history for lectures and seminars. However, as most films are now sold on DVDs, no clips can be extracted from these movies without circumventing DRM. In her report, Akester found that many lectures use anti-circumvention programs to make the necessary clips, and those who don’t use their own personal collection of copied of terrestrial television broadcast or VHS and believe that their inability to use DVDs greatly limits their teaching practice.

A great number of film students indicated in Akester’s report that they are being affected by DRM, but they also said that in most situations non-digital versions of the works they are looking for can be found, but using then would be slow and does not contribute in helping the film industry in anyway. A great number of respondents admitted that they do circumvent DRM protection in order to use the protected work in the course of their education. Responses included states about not hesitating to break DRM, the fact that it will always be possible for people to copy DVD in spite of the legal protection, and that some would “continue to use DVD where appropriate and […] will continue to do so, even if illegally”.

DRM Impact on Permitted Uses – The Visually Impaired

The visually impaired are provided in the CDPA 1988 with a number of defeces against copyright infringement for the purpose of making “accessible copies” of copyright works.

Particia Akester examined how DRM affects the rights of blind people for accessing these works.

The paper explains that the computer is information access tool of choice for many persons who are blind as they can use text-to-speech synthesizers to read aloud textual content on the computer screen. Similar screen readers also allow the use of “dynamic brail displays” tot further allow another level of accessibility. It is not always possible to resort to non-digital versions of accessible works because of their size. (Brail editions of a book like Harry Potter could be made up of ten large volumes of text).

Most screen readers are external programs installed independetly of eBook reading programs. The paper says that most eBook reading programs try to restrict the access of third party programs to the text to prevent copying and consequently block screen readers as they are considered as a security threat. Most popular computer eBook readers (made by Adobe and Microsoft) have built-in screen reading functionalities – This means the capability to read the screen will not be blocked as a security threat because it is built in the software itself, but it also allows content providers to enable or disable the reading functionality for specific eBooks. Some of these DRM technologies associate TTS features with security, so that in the case of Microsoft DRM technology, if the highest level of security is selected (which is the mostly commonly used option) the TTS features will be disabled. For Adobe’s DRM technology, TSS is not linked with security, but many publishers still sometimes disable the feature “because they are not certain they have the rights to turn it on”.

The Royal National Institute of the Blind, one of the largest organisations serving hte need of hte blind and partially sighted people in the UK, stated that it does NOT receive many complaints from blind people about DRM restricting their access to content. One of the reasons predicted by the RNIB is that “the visually impaired may know, by now, that buying e-books may lead to very frustrating results”. However, RNIB said that in none of its reported cases were the complainants ever able to get a clean copy of an originally DRMed file, even though some complainants did get a refund. In some of the case studies discussed in the paper, the only option available to a visualy impaired to acquire an accessible copy of a work was by obtaining an illegal copy.

DRM Impact on Permitted Acts – Library Uses


(Photo credits: Here’s Kate)

The CDPA 1988 provides libraries with a number of permitted uses to copy some works without infringing copyright. Such uses include copying and supplying copies for the purpose of non-commercial research or private study, making and supplying copies to other libraries, and copying to replace items in the libraries own collection.

Patricia Akester wrote a paper showing the first empirical assessment of the impact of DRM on such permitted uses. In regard to copyright related limitations on the libraries functions, the paper indicates that the librarian’s biggest problem does not come from DRM, but from restrictive licensing agreements that override allowed uses of copyright works and include restrictions on copying (e.g. restrictions on percentage that can be copied, the number of times copies can be made, the medium of the copy, etc) and these restrictions do prevent archiving and inter-library loans.

However, DRM did also restrict the ability of some libraries to fulfill their task, especially in relation to digital preservation as works with DRM can only be accessed through the specific manufacturers devices and programs, meaning that the content becomes inaccessible if the manufacturer decides to withdraw the product from the market. (“Once a DRM system becomes technologically obsolescenet, works protected by that system become inaccessible long before the expiry of copyright.”)

Akester quoted the Digital Preservation Architect of the British Library:

“Unlike physical books or newspapers, works in digital format do not stand-alone, requiring considerable support infrastructure (in the form of hardware and software) to be usable and there are concerns as to the longevity and support of the platform technology”.

Another related DRM problem to preservation is the limitation of DRM on duplicating content which is an “essential and unavoidable preservation requirement”. An obvious example of this is the technological restriction on copying DVDs.

Libraries feel that they need to have the right to receive DRM free versions of the items deposited or the right to circumvent DRM.

Sony v Ball [2004] – Case Example of DRM Provisions

Sony v Ball (PS2 DRM)
(Photo credits: yum9me)

The case of Sony v Ball [2004] involved a number of defendants involved with the design, manufacture, sale, and installation of an mod chip called Messiah2 – which was used to circumvent to the DRM attached to PS2 disks to allow playing games from other regions, game backups, 3rd party games made by unlicensed developers, and pirated games.

The court held this to be no offense under Section 296(1)(a) of the CDPA(2) could be established at the summary stage of the proceedings. This section grants the owner the right to issue copies to the public the same rights against a person who deals with anti-circumvention devices knowing that it will be used to make infringing copies. The court said that the defendant knew that it MIGHT be used to infringe copyright, but he did not know that for a fact, and without further inspection into specific cases in which pirated games were loaded into the system, the offense cannot be be established.

However, an offense was established under Section 296(2)(b) for publishing information relating to enable or assist persons to circumvent the copy-protection system. The defendant in this case published information relating to the installation of the chips on internet websites.

The defendant argued that for the offense to be established, the anti-circumvention must be the “sole intended purpose” and that is not the case because the chip could be used to play backups and imported games. The court said that both of these actions must be legitimate uses for the defence to succeed and that was not the case as Sony did not authorize any of these. For imported games, the license was clearly for a specific region, and for the backup defence, the court said that the defence is only for ‘necessary’ backup and it is not ‘necessary’ to backup CDs as they are robust and cannot be wiped clean – unlike programs distributed on floppy disks or other unreliable formats.

The court also held that an offense was made under Section 296ZA for actually anti-circumventing DRM which the defendant has done when he installed the chip for customers.  Another offense was made under 296ZD for dealing in the course of a business with circumvention devices or services. The court said that 296ZD is a tort of strict liability and knowledge was irrelevant.

(Note: Actions under 296 are only for circumventing the DRM relating to computer programs, while 296ZA-ZE relate to all other works. Videos games computer programs and other works, so both categories of offenses apply).

Link to case.

Protection of DRM in the UK

DRM
(Photo credits: Vagamundos)

Current protection of DRM in EU is achieved through the Information Society Directive. Article 6 of this directive requires member states to provide adequate protection against the circumvention of DRM for protection of copyright and against any activity which is marketed for the purpose of circumvention or one which has no significant commercial purpose or use other than circumventing DRM (Such activities include manufacture and distribution of devices and the provision of services).

Article 6(4) of the directive require states to promote voluntary measures taken by copyright rightholders in order to allow the beneficiaries of a number of copyright exceptions to use these exceptions. Article 6(4) is only restricted to the following exceptions:

  • reprographic copying,
  • copying by libraries, educational establishments or musuems,
  • ephemeral recording made by broadcasting organisation,
  • copying of broadcasts by non-commercial social institutions,
  • copying for illustration for teaching or scientific research,
  • copying for people with a disability, and
  • copying for purpose of public security or for the proper performance or reporting of administrative, parliamentary or judicial proceeding.

This article creates a two step procedure for enabling the beneficiaries of these exceptions:

  1. Member states must promote voluntary measures taken by rightholder to enable the working of the exceptions.
  2. If rightholders fail to enable these beneficiaries to make use of their exceptions within a reasonable time, the member states should take appropriate measures to rectify the situation.

The directive does not define what is meant by “voluntary measures” or “appropriate measures”.

The rule in Article 6(4) does not apply to reproduction for private use. It also doesn’t apply in relation to works supplied online on agreed contractual terms.

In the UK, the provisions of this Directive were implemented into the CDPA 1988 which already contained sections for the circumvention of TPM on computer programs. These older computer program provisions still apply only to computer programs and the new anti-circumvention provisions apply to everything else.

Section 296ZA(1) prohibits doing anything which circumvents effective technological measures knowing, or with reasonable grounds to know, that is he is pursing that objective. The only exception to this section is when a person carries out a circumvention act for the purposes of research into cryptography.

Section 296ZB(1) makes it an offence for someone to (1) manufacture for sale or hire, (2) import other than for personal use, or (3) sell, advertise, possess, distribute, etc, in the course of a business, any device product, or component which is primarily designed, produced, or adapted for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the circumvention of effective technological measures.

Section 296ZB(2) makes it an offence or someone to provide, promote, advertise, or market (a) in the course of a business, or (b) to an extent as to affect prejudicially the copyright owner, a service for the purpose of which is to enable or facilitate the circumvention of effective technological measures.

Section 296ZE states that when DRM prevents a beneficiary of a permitted copyright act from doing that act then that person may issue a complaint notice to the Secretary of State who may order the owner of the copyright work to ensure that the complainant can benefit from the permitted act.

There are no records of any complaints ever made through this procedure to the Secretary of State. Akester suggests that this is due to a number of reasons including the fact that some beneficiaries are not aware of the procedure and that some find it too cumbersome and lengthy.

DRM and Interoperability

DRM & Interoperability
(Photo credits: Alexia’s)

Another negative impact of DRM on the market and consumer choice is the fact that it leads to the creation of interoperable technologies. Due to the proprietary nature of DRM technologies, the technology will only be accessible by devices and services that license the technology from the original manufacturer and users will not be able to circumvent the DRM just to be able to access the media on unauthorized devices even if they have legally purchased the locked up files.

This has the result of locking up consumers into specific brands of technology as the more they invest in purchasing digital content with DRM the more difficult for them it would be to abandon their investment in that content in order to use a competing technology. For example, videos purchased from the Apple iTunes store is protected by Apple FairPlay DRM which cannot be played on any portable multimedia device other than those manufactured by Apple itself.

Some consumers are also not aware of the nature of restriction imposed on the use of goods they use before they purchase them. An example of this would be copy-protected music CDs that cannot be played on PCs.

This lack of interoperability is one of the major problems with DRM. Akester suggests that a number of popular DRM technologies were circumvented because there was no legal way for the users to access the content they purchased on the Linux operating system. For example, the DeCSS technology used for circumventing the CSS protection on DVD was first made on the Linux to allow playback of DVDs on that operating system. Apple’s FairPlay DRM was also circumvented on the Linux OS because Apple never released a Linux version of iTunes.

In addition to the direct detriment on consumers, DRM’s lack of interoperability could have anti-competitive effects as companies acquire a vertical monopoly over the creation tools of the content, the distribution channels of the content, and the devices that play the content. Apple was the obvious example of this situation during the days when it sold songs with DRM, however, market pressure forced Apple to persuade the major labels to sell their music on the iTunes Store. However, it can still be argued that Apple is practicing anti-competitive activities in the way it sells video content (which is still served with DRM). Catherin Stromdale says that Microsoft has also been accused of being anti-competitive with its Windows Rights Management service which can be used with any Windows data.

DRM and Privacy

DRM & Privacy
(Photo credits: bejealousofme)

One of the less frequently talked about drawbacks of DRM is the possible impact of DRM on the end-users privacy. The purpose of DRM is to restrict the illegal copying or use of copyright works. In order to achieve this goal, some DRM technologies require authentications and force the user to identify himself in order to access the digital products he wishes to use. Personal information of the purchaser could be attached to the digital file downloaded such as this name, email address, or an account reference. As DRM spreads, we might end up in a situation where an individual cannot purchase or use any digital goods without giving up him anonymity.

Akester argues that this could potentially be in conflict in the EU with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the right to respect private and family life. Akester believes that most DRM systems are made with little regard to privacy.

A possible problem with a more direct impact on users is the ability of certain DRM technologies to install themselves on the end-users machine with the purpose of tracking the use of work in question. In the year 2005, Sony BMG was caught in a scandal for including a special “rootkit software” that installs itself when a user plays a music CD by the label. This rootkit had the effect of rendering the end-users computer vulnerable for attacks. The rootkit was eventually labeled by makers of Anti-virus and Microsoft as a spyware. Sony BMG was faced with a number of class actions which the company settled.

However, the law in most jurisdictions would make attempting to circumvent DRM in order to protect the users machine or to access the purchased copyright work without compromising one’s privacy illegal.

Links:

Computer Programs Copyright Exceptions

Computer Programs Copyright Exceptions
(Photo credits: Bombardier)

The CDPA 1988 in the UK provides a number of copyright exceptions related to the use of computer programs. These exceptions allow a person to copy whole or part of computer programs without infringing copyright. All these exceptions other than the adaptation exception cannot be limited or excluded by contract.

Section 50A(1) permits a “lawful user” to copying a computer program to make a single backup copy of it which is necessary for them to have for the purpose of their lawful use. Bently says that this defence provides a form of insurance for end users in case the computer program fails or gets damaged. Case law suggests that this exception will only be accepted when the backup is ‘necessary’. In the case of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc v Owen, the court held that creating a backup copy is not necessary when a person buys a game on a disk.

Section 50B permits a lawful user of a copy of a computer program expressed in a low level language to decompile it into a higher level language OR to incidentally copy it in the course of converting the program, subject to the following conditions:

  • The decompilation is necessary to obtain information necessary to create an independent program which can be operated with the program decompiled, or with another program.
  • The information obtained is not used for any other purpose.

Bently says that this defence is necessary to be ensuring compatibility between software would require decompilation, and the process of decompilation would require at some stage intermediary copying of a program (and that would prima facie by an infringement without this defence).

Section 50BA permits a lawful user to observe, study, or test the functionality of a computer program without infringing copyright by carrying out an act of loading, displaying, running, etc, the program for the purpose of determining the ideas or principles which underlie any element of the program.

Section 50C(1) permits a lawful user of a computer program to copy or adapt that computer program if that is “necessary for the lawful use” of the program. This exception only applies in the absence of contractual terms to the contrary. Bently says that it is meant to allow end users to fix program errors without infringing copyright.

In addition to computer program exception, the CDPA 1988 has an exception in Section 56 that allows purchasers of works in electronic form to make further copies or adaptations o the work.

A final exception related to computer programs is the one for temporary technology-dictated copies. Under this exception an action would be barred from copyright infringement if it merely creates a temporary copy that is integral to the technology process and is made to enable either (a) the transmission between a 3rd party and an intermediary or (b) lawful use of the work, on the condition that this temporary copy has no economic significance.