UK Government Inquiry into DRM calls for full disclosure

"once someone has purchased a great deal of protected music for an iPod then if their next player is not manufactured by Apple this music could become inaccessible to them."  

The All Party Internet Group's public inquiry into Digital Rights Management (the software which dictates how you can and cannot use a piece of digital content) today published their 30 page report. The UK government group has made recomendations that music and video purchased with  DRM should be completely transparant about the system and limitations that a  work is encoded with. The proposals call for a ban on enforcing mandatory DRM. Furthermore, in cases such as Sony's Rootkit  issue (where copies of Sony CDs installed software onto users hardware  which opened security holes and also stipulated unworkable levels of constraints on the user) the manufacturer could face prosecution.

BoingBoing blogger, novelist, open media champion and Open Rights Group member Cory Doctorow commented "These reccos certainly could have gone farther, but hoo boy, would you look at that? Talk about a country bent on learning from America's dumb DRM mistakes.'

The 30 page report can be downloaded as a PDF - whie the Open Rights Group website  responses and analysis of the recomendations is copied below.

Last year, the Open Rights Group submitted evidence to the All Party Internet Group’s public inquiry into digital rights management (DRM) after carrying out it’s own public consultation into questions raised by the call for evidence. In February this year, ORG gave oral evidence to the APIG inquiry, giving a concise statement regarding ORG’s position and answering questions from Derek Wyatt MP, Ian Taylor MP and the Earl of Erroll.

This morning, at an event organised by the IPPR and hosted by the British Library, APIG launched their report. from APIG’s website. For those of you with a shorter attention span, here is the official report summary as provided by APIG’s secretariat.

The inquiry’s key recommendations:

1. A recommendation that the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) bring forward appropriate labelling regulations so that it will become crystal clear to consumers what they will and will not be able to do with digital content that they purchase.

Thinking behind the recommendation:

There was considerable consensus on the principle that consumers should be aware of what they are purchasing.

Not surprisingly, the consumers were in favour, but other respondents were as well. For example, EMI told us “consumers should be aware of the precise terms of the package of rights they have paid for by proper labelling or other explanation” and Intel said “consumer notice requirements in connection with content protection and DRM are not only appropriate, but will in fact help drive both the deployment of new business models and consumer acceptance of content protection and DRMs generally”. In the long run, ‘media literacy’ will ensure that consumers understand what they are purchasing and what they might reasonably expect to be able to do with digital content. In the meantime, the evidence we received suggests that extensive labelling is essential.

2. A recommendation that the OFT labelling regulations we propose, should ensure that the risks are clearly spelled out, at the point of purchase, whenever consumers could lose access to digital content if systems are discontinued, or devices fail, or players are replaced by systems from a different manufacturer.

Thinking behind the recommendation:

One of the issues that we asked respondents to comment upon was that of Technical Protection Measure systems being discontinued. Although this will seldom cause a work to disappear altogether, it can have significant impact on individual consumers who find themselves with content that they can no longer enjoy. Even where the manufacturer stays in business, there is still an issue of being ‘locked in’ to particular technologies, even if other offerings are more attractive or less expensive. As an example, once someone has purchased a great deal of protected music for an iPod then if their next player is not manufactured by Apple then this music could become inaccessible to them. There are currently practical (albeit, not necessary lawful) ways of addressing this problem for iPods, but this may not be true for all formats.

3. A recommendation that OFCOM publish guidance to make it clear that companies distributing Technical Protection Measures systems in the UK would, if they have features such as those in Sony-BMG’s MediaMax and XCP systems, run a significant risk of being prosecuted for criminal actions.

Thinking behind the recommendation:

Shortly before our inquiry was announced it was revealed that Sony-BMG had shipped millions of CDs in the United States with two extremely problematic copy-protection systems – MediaMax and XCP. Our respondents – consumers and rights holders alike – were universally unimpressed by this saga, using words such as “debacle”, “blunder”, “arrogance” and “shambles”. We note that the US legal system was able to deliver a reasonable (and rapid) resolution of the problem. Nevertheless, it is possible that similar cases will arise in the future as they have in the past

4. A recommendation that the Department of Trade and Industry investigate the single-market issues that were raised during the Inquiry, with a view to addressing the issue at the European level. We accept the argument that other industries may soon find their markets distorted by DRM systems and so we recommend rapid development of the principles by which the single market can continue to operate effectively.

Thinking behind the recommendation:

Several people pointed out that iTunes charge different prices in different countries. In the US a single download costs $0.99 (about 55p) in Europe it costs €0.99 (about 68p) and in the UK £0.79. This is enforced by checking the address linked to the credit card used for purchases. However, Technical Protection Measures prevent entrepreneurs from purchasing ‘cheap’ tunes in the US or on the continent and then selling them for a profit in the UK. It seems to us that this is somewhat at odds with the notion of the ’single market.’

5. A recommendation that the government do not legislate to make DRM systems mandatory.

Thinking behind the recommendation:

Several respondents were concerned about the possibility of a mandatory imposition of DRM systems (especially Technical Protection Measures). They thought this would have significant effects on “open source” systems and would raise prices for businesses – whose new computers would cost more, because of features that had been added solely to “police” home users. We did not hear any evidence to suggest that mandatory DRM is currently on the agenda in the UK or Europe and think it unlikely that, having considered all the pros and cons, that any government would be in favour of such a policy.

6. A recommendation that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport review the level of funding for pilot projects that address access to eBooks by those with visual disabilities and that action is taken if they are failing to achieve positive results.

Thinking behind the recommendation:

One of the most unwelcome effects of Technical Protection Measures is their ability to prevent the disabled from accessing digital content. This comes about because the specialist hardware and software that is used to convert the content into speech, Braille, or large type, fails to interwork with the protected material. At our oral hearings, Lynn Holdsworth, a visually impaired person, told us of her personal experience of purchasing an eBook from Amazon only to discover that “screen readers have been locked out of this publication”. Neither Amazon nor the publisher was able to assist her, so in the end she obtained an “illegal” copy which her screen reader application could access.

7. A recommendation that the Department of Trade and Industry revisit the results of their review into their moribund “IP Advisory Committee” and reconstitute it as several more focused forums. One of these should be a “UK Stakeholders Group” to be chaired by the British Library. It should specifically address the complex issues surrounding DRM, not just from the point of view of experts on the technology, but with a wide-ranging membership that includes representatives of consumers, libraries and the creators of content – as well as the ‘usual suspects’ from the rights holders and content distribution industries.

Thinking behind the recommendation:

We see an important role for an independent ’stakeholders’ body with representatives from rights holders, the creators of content, the libraries and also consumers – in fact, just the types of people who have taken the time and trouble to advise us in this inquiry. This body should be specifically attempting to ensure that domestic legislation, and pan-European legislation developed in Brussels, strikes an appropriate balance between competing interests. Given their middle-ground position between consumers on the one hand and the rights-holders on the other, we believe that the appropriate body to chair this stakeholders group would be the British Library. We feel that this choice is particularly appropriate, since many practical solutions to addressing the issues of balance that DRM throws up, may involve the British Library holding non-protected material in trust for the nation.

8. A recommendation that the Government consider granting a much wider-ranging exemption to the anti-circumvention measures in the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act for genuine academic research.

Thinking behind the recommendation:

We have considerable sympathy for the view that lack of research will mean that critical weaknesses in Technical Protection Measure systems will fail to be examined, leading to unnecessary problems for the content industry. We do not see it as being in anyone’s long term interest for academics who spot flaws in systems to end up in court.

9. A recommendation that having taken advice from the Legal Deposit Advisory Panel, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport hold a formal public consultation, not only on the technical details, but also on the general principles that have been established.

Thinking behind the recommendation:

The libraries’ main submission was that Technical Protection Measures were preventing the exemptions in copyright legislation from being available to them. Library privilege, fair dealing and review or reporting were sometimes impossible, especially when they considered disabled library users. The British Library suggested that “digital is not different” would be an entirely appropriate approach. The libraries, and a number of the rights holder organisations, drew our attention to the setting up in September 2005 of the Legal Deposit Advisory Panel. This body is where the negotiations between the government, libraries and publishers will take place, so as to “advise the Secretary of State on the timing and content of regulations relating to legal deposit and to oversee the implementation of the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003″.

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