David Canton – for the London Free Press – September 26, 2006
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Several countries have enacted or are considering enacting legislation dealing with Digital Rights Management (DRM).
DRM deals with electronic ways the vendor of digital content uses to limit what the buyer can do with that content. It might, for example, allow the buyer to play a song on a CD player, but not on a computer, or allow only a few copies to be made or make a song or video playable only on specific devices.
Canada is expected to make it illegal to break DRM in upcoming copyright reform legislation, which has caused much concern. Some say we need protection from DRM, rather than protection for it.
I believe legal protection for DRM is unwarranted and causes far more problems than it resolves.
The entertainment industry is not united in its support for DRM, either. While large media companies generally support it, many artists and smaller music and video companies do not.
The intent of DRM is to protect the vendor’s copyright. The reality is DRM is used to exert far more control than that and often restricts users from doing things they are legally entitled to do.
The U.S. protects DRM and has been criticized for the chill effect it has had on legitimate activity. Some countries have proposed to restrict DRM, rather than support it.
DRM often does not work as it is inevitable that ways are found to break it. The entertainment industry thus tries to lobby governments to make it illegal to break DRM.
Before content was digital, we could copy a vinyl record onto a cassette to listen to it in our car or walkman.
Until DRM, people were able to copy music they had purchased onto any recording medium.
DRM limits what we can do with music (or video or any other digital file) we purchase. It might, for example, limit us to playing it back on vendor-compatible devices.
It might limit us to playing it on no more than five computers — a significant limitation.
iTunes, for example, sells a lot of music, but the amount of music on iPods from iTunes is a small percentage. Many people download music for their iPods because they know about the restrictions.
One problem with DRM is it allows music vendors to limit consumer rights more narrowly than copyright law allows.
DRM advocates want to make it illegal for us to break DRM so we can exercise those rights the law has granted us — thus allowing the music vendor to limit the legal rights that the legislators have seen fit to give us.
To learn more on DRM and copyright legislation, see Prof. Michael Geist’s 30 days of DRM feature at www.michaelgeist.ca/daysofdrm.