Monday, August 27, 2012

Copyright Issues and Challenges of Digital Rights Management

Digital Rights Management (DRM) refers to protecting ownership/copyright of electronic content by restricting what actions an authorized recipient may take in regard to that content. DRM gives digital-content publishers the ability to securely distribute high-value content such as periodicals, books, photographs, educational material, video, and research and to control the use of that content, preventing unauthorized distribution. DRM is a term used to describe any technology that controls how or when consumers use digital content. DRM issues are intertwined with the ant circumvention provisions, and fair use issues of United State’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

DRM technologies attempt to control what you can and can't do with the media and hardware you've purchased. The Digital Rights Management Passport (DRMP) technology (TCPA from Intel and Palladium from Microsoft and similar) is intended to make it hard to copy downloaded music or pirated software. Preventing teenagers from making copies of Eminem songs may seem harmless, but Internet Age technology is all about convergence. As publishers and copyright owners increasingly issue content exclusively in a digital format, issues surrounding DRM become more important to libraries and consumers. The potential of publishers and copyright owners to lock their content away from lawful owners and users is troublesome because the Digital Millennium Copyright Act includes provisions that make it illegal for ANY consumer to override DRM technologies that may interfere with lawful access or use to a digital work. This means that if publishers and copyright owners implement restrictive DRM measures, lawful consumers will be unable to control digital software they buy, including CDs and DVDs.

Publishers and copyright owners have a right to protect their products with DRM measures in order to avoid illegal use or copying of those products. Many publishers and copyright owners, however, implement DRM technologies without regard to long-standing equitable copyright laws and principles such as fair use and the first sale doctrine. Additionally, publishers and copyright owners have been lobbying US Congress to force manufacturers to include DRM technologies in their products. If such legislation becomes law, it will ensure that consumers no longer can control the digital content they buy or to which they should have access. Bought an ebook from Amazon but can't read it on your ebook reader of choice? That's DRM. Bought a DVD or Blu-Ray but can't copy the video onto your portable media player? That's DRM. Bought a video-game but can't play it today because the manufacturer's "authentication servers" are off-line? That's DRM. Bought a smart-phone but can't use the applications or the service provider you want on it? That's DRM. Corporations claim that DRM is necessary to fight copyright infringement online and keep consumers safe from viruses. But there's no evidence that DRM helps fight either of those. Instead DRM helps big business stifle innovation and competition by making it easy to quash "unauthorized" uses of media and technology. 

Fans shouldn't be treated like criminals and companies shouldn't get an automatic veto over user choice and innovation. When a technology gets pervasively embedded in microprocessors, computer boards, and software, it will alter the performance of power turbines, jet engines, medical instruments, cell phones and missile guidance systems. Unfortunately, DRMP technology is incompatible with security and with the kinds of reliability needed in safety critical or mission critical applications. There are some concrete consequences that are important in defense and manufacturing.

Despite marketing, DRMP is a licensing technology, not a security technology. The combination of hardware and software being championed and fought over by the entertainment companies, Microsoft, and Intel, enforces something like an identity card or passport system on software. The idea is that DRM agents will be incorporated into software, processors, and other computer hardware and the DRM agents will examine files containing programs and data (such as digitized music) to make sure the file is attached to a valid digital passport. The passports prove that the file is being used within its license terms. Before you can play a movie on your PC, the DRM agent in the processor will demand the passport on the video player and the video player software will demand the passport of the video file. Before you run a word processor, some DRM agent will make sure you have a valid license and have not violated any of the fine print of the shrink-wrap license and that the file you are opening is something you have a license to read. Programs that do not incorporate certified DRM agents will not be able to get passports, so there will be a world-wide web of DRM agents working together.

Altering formats of, copying, or repurposing copyrighted content to allow access with assistive technologies must remain a protection available to consumers with print disabilities. Proposals purporting to establish technologies to prevent illegal copying or publication of copyrighted content must consider and address the fair use rights of persons who are blind and visually impaired. On November 27, 2006, the Librarian of Congress, on the recommendation of the Registrar of Copyrights, announced that literary works distributed in ebook format are exempt from the prohibition against circumvention of technological measures that control access to copyrighted works. Persons making no infringing uses of the following six classes of works will not be subject to the prohibition against circumventing access controls (17 U.S.C. &167; 1201(a)(1)) during the next three years.

DRM, in its traditional role as a tool of copyright enforcement, requires cooperation between authors, manufacturers, governments and publishers. In the light of the fact that devices with easily defeatable DRM sell better in an unregulated market, while implementing secure DRM is expensive, manufacturers need additional incentives to cooperate, such as government intervention and/or exclusive contracts (or even merger) with publishers/distributors. Also, manufacturers may choose to relocate to countries where such government intervention is smaller, thus providing governments with an incentive to defect from this cooperation. In addition, cooperation in copyright enforcement may erode the popularity of content creators, manufacturers and governments alike. The recent Sony-BMG case is an illustrative example of such backlash. In such an environment, enforcing copyright in the face of extremely cheap, high quality alternative distribution channels (such as digital networks and recordable media) is a very difficult undertaking. On the other hand, content consumers have every reason to cooperate against copyright enforcement and can do so quite successfully, as has been observed with the widespread practice of burning CDs and DVDs for one another and the popularity of and considerable engineering effort put into peer-to-peer file-sharing and defeating DRM solutions.

DRM may not always be the right solution for the problem. What’s really interesting about the problem of copy protection and software piracy is that the solution is to pretend that there’s not a problem. There is little to no copy protection in business software. In the competitive software application industry, market share and product loyalty – no matter how they are achieved – are crucial. Many companies reason as follows: People who pirate software of a company cost the company next to nothing; since the company’s marginal cost of goods is zero. It’s not like they are stealing televisions off the company’s assembly line. Almost all people who pirate the company’s software can’t afford to pay for it, so the company is not losing many sales. And, when these pirates eventually get into a situation where they need to buy the software legitimately, they will already be hooked on company’s software, not the company’s competitors’. Piracy is just another way of boosting market share.

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