DRM, New Business Models, and User Rights

Digital rights management, or DRM for short, are the digital locks that control the way users access and interact with digital goods. For example, you cannot copy the video off a Blu-ray disc because these discs are equipped with technological protection measures that enable the user to view the video, but not do anything else with it. These technologies were created by the content industry to combat online piracy because it was thought that classic copyright law on its own is not sufficient to protect the interests of the content industry. So the content industry thought, ‘the answer to the machine is the machine’, and created a technology to combat the piracy enabled by new internet.

But then again, there is no perfect technology, and because the objective of all content technologies at the end of the day is to deliver a certain song, video, or some other content to the end-user, all DRM technologies are susceptible to circumvention. Once a single circumvented copy of a work is made available online, it does not matter that all other copies are protected, because it only takes that one single incident of circumvention to provide all illegal sharing platforms with a source to duplicate and distribute on their networks. Even after all these years and all the DRM technologies developed, it remains extremely easy to find online illegal copies of movies and songs.

DRM did not provide a solution to piracy, and instead has limited the ability of legitimate users, who pay for the content, to properly enjoy the content they legally acquired. If you purchase a movie or a TV show episode from the iTunes Store you cannot watch it on an Android device, a PS4 or an XBox, whereas if you illegally download it you can play it on any device you want. One might say that there are numerous online video stores and you can buy your content from the store that works for your device instead of complaining about Apple’s DRM, but what if I own multiple devices, should I buy the same content multiple times just to make sure that it works on all my devices, or should I have the right to use the content the way I choose if I pay for it legally. Similarly, if a device is discontinued or a business goes bankrupt, DRM does not allow the user to make sure that the content remains usable in the future.

With that being said, we need to acknowledge that DRM has enabled the creation of some extremely useful business models that provide us as consumers with different options on how to pay for content. As DRM enables businesses to control how often a file is played or how long a file remains valid, we are now able to rent a digital file or pay for a subscription. Thanks to such technologies we now have things like Netflix and Spotify that charge us a tiny fraction of the money we used to in the past for consuming the same amount content.

I don’t think that the existence of DRM itself is the problem, the problem is the fact that many laws around the world make it illegal to circumvent DRM. As a legitimate user, I should be able to circumvent DRM if DRM restricts me from carrying out legitimate uses or subjects me or my property to risk, and companies that apply harmful DRM to content should be held accountable and punished for doing so. The law protects against the circumvention DRM irrespective of whether the work to which DRM is applied is protected by copyright (i.e. in the public domain) and irrespective of whether or not the circumvention is undertaken to carry out a use that is permitted by copyright (e.g. for the purpose of quotation or review) – this does NOT make any sense.

Even though international treaties, such as the WIPO Copyright Treaty, require States to protect against the circumvention of DRM, these treaties permit States to have exceptions to allow the public to circumvent DRM in certain cases, but not all countries take advantage of these flexibilities. For example, the copyright law in Oman does not allow ANY exceptions to the anti-circumvention measures found in Article 40(1) of the law.

DRM continues to be used in more and more online services, but if no action is taken, the restrictions imposed by DRM will override all the checks and balances that copyright law is meant to respect in order for society to fairly benefit from cultural works.

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.

Continue reading DRM and the Balance of Copyright Law in Oman

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:

The Problem with DRM

Digital Rights Management or DRM are tools used by distributors of digital media to ensure to control the way in which their music, video, and other digital goods are used and distributed. The majority of countries, including Oman, make it a criminal offense to disable DRM, to manufacture or import tools that disable DRM, or to share information to enable others to disable DRM.

Though not strictly speaking an actual substance of copyright, DRM offences are placed in copyright legislation due to their usage in that field. Content distributors use DRM to enforce their copyright by locking down their digital goods. For example, when you download a ringtone from your mobile operator service directly, that ringtone will be equipped with DRM that will not allow you to forward this ringtone to anybody else. If you purchase a DVD, you will not be able to create a copy of it using any legal software in the market. If you rent a video from iTunes, you will not be able to copy that video onto any other machine and you will have a very limited time to watch it after which the video will stop working.

Due to the ease at which copyright work can be copied and distributed over the Internet, one of the industry’s responses to enforce their copyright was the introduction of newer and newer DRM technologies. By using DRM content owners can have almost complete control over the use of the copyright work and will ensure that it is not copied or duplicated easy.

DRM has also contributed to the creation of new business models and services that would not have existed otherwise, for example, it would be impossible to have a legally cheap music rental services such as Napster if it wasn’t for DRM.

The available of DRM also helps the regulation of content through different territories for the protection of children and society when moral values and tolerance of sexual and violent content varies from one distinction to the other as DRM makes it difficult to play American movies in Europe).

However, for the greatest part, most people think that DRM is a bad thing. Starting from the top, there is no evidence that using DRM actually reduces piracy. Steve Jobs himself said in 2007 and DRM does not work. The nature of digital goods makes it impossible to lock down the ability to copy a work because by definition that data must be unlocked to be used and therefore it will always be possible to record and copy that data, whether it digital or analogue format, and then redistribute it. DRM targets the wrong people, people who will pay for it are not the pirates. It is demeaning because it makes every single one of us a suspect of copyright infringement.

A more problematic area of DRM is that it does not only stop illegal copying, but legal copying as well. Copyright is not an absolute right, but one which is supposed to balance the interests of society against those of the author. The collection of these legal copying instances are called in the US “Fair Use” and in Europe “Fair Dealing”. In Oman, these are called “Free Uses” and are specified in Article 20 of the Copyright Law 65/2008. A simple example of these rights are the right to make a single backup copy under Article 20(5). When DRM is used to protect a copyright work, then breaking the protection to create a copy would constitute a criminal offense regardless of whether the DRM was removed to create a legitimate backup copy.

This example could also be illustrated in the case of DVD playback on the Linux OS, no Linux OS has the license to play DVD movies on it, but Article 20(5) allows the modification of a copyright work in order to make a work compatible with another operating system, however, due to the fact that DVD movies are protected by CSS DRM, it will not be possible to make use the format shifting exception to play the DVD on Linux and any attempt to create a tool to play DVDs on Linux, or use one, would constitute a criminal offense under Article 40 of the Copyright Law.

That basically renders all the exceptions of copyright protection pointless as the majority of copyright works can now be DRMed, whether there was or wasn’t a point for using this protection. That obviously cannot be right, as copyright was never meant to grant such a power to content makers to control the way we use content we legally purchased. No legislator anywhere made the conscious decision to introduce such stringent rules, but this change in the way copyright operates was a result in the change of technology, for which copyright law was modified in the WRONG way “adapt” to it.

Not only does DRM not allow for free use exceptions, but it does not take regard of even works in the public domain for which no copyright subsists at all as a protection for DRM is granted whether or not the content it actually protects is in copyright or not.

DRM also poses a number of privacy issues, as at some instances personal data, such as names and credit card details, might be required to be submitted before the digital product is consumed. DRM can also be used to track the way and frequency at which the product is used. DRM proved to also be a possible cause of serious security risk to user computers as was the case in the Sony rootkit music CD fiasco.

The complex structure of today’s market and the way different tools and required to consume media, all make it possible for DRM to be used to affect the secondary market, as content providers may control the way products are played (e.g. DVDs). This could have an impact on competition and may stifle innovation as new technologies cannot be introduced if all current media is locked down to a specific DRM that cannot be legally broken or adapted without the permission of the owner.

The problems with DRM are international, the majority of modern copyright legislation including the US, Japan, and UK all have similar provisions against the circumvention of DRM. The laws in Oman are just as bad, especially as the DRM provisions were introduced in response to comply with the requirements of Article 15.4 of the Free Trade Agreement with the US. Any attempt to remove or amend the bad DRM provisions in Oman could render us in breach of our obligations under the FTA. Our only solace is that the situation in the US (and all other countries that signed an FTA with the US) is just as bad, but that does not really solve the problem.

Luckily, more and more companies seem to know that DRM is not the solution to the problem, iTunes announced a couple of months ago that it will make its entire music catalog without DRM, Amazon has always been so since the day it launched its online music store.

But now having DRM free content seems like a privilege and not a right. An international movement would have take place for the law to change that position.