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Annotations to the APIG DRM report

Two weeks ago, the All Party Internet Group (APIG), a UK based discussion group open to all Parliamentarians in both the House of Commons and House of Lords, released a rather progressive report on DRM technology. I won’t comment on the APIG’s recommendations (or “key points”) here—they all sound very reasonable—but instead, highlight a couple of noteworthy (but not always smart) remarks and formulations in the report. In order of occurrence:

¶ 19 states that, “[b]ecause TPMs can almost invariably be circumvented, a legal framework is needed to prevent unauthorised copying at a commercial scale […].” The next sentence however features a completely flawed real-world analogy: “As EMI observed to us, the widespread availability of colour printers has made it easier for people to forge banknotes, but this hasn’t led to the legalisation of counterfeiting!” I don’t get it at all—very strange this comparison was included in the final report.

¶ 23 starts with saying that “[t]he Internet is inevitably going to radically alter all current content distribution models” and continues: “DRM has the potential to speed up this process because many content owners are unwilling to provide content in an innovative manner unless they can prevent unauthorised copying.” My question: was it necessary to include this statement in the report? Do the authors really believe that (and I quote Cory Doctorow) “studios will make movies and just not release them, they will amass a great pile of unreleased material in their Hollywood vaults and sit before the doors, arms folded, glaring at the world until it arranges itself into a more accomodating configuration?”

The argument started in ¶ 23 is continued in ¶ 27, where they link new DRM-driven business models to the marketing of long tail content: “[these DRM-driven models] could also significantly affect the viability of making available the ‘long tail’ of work […].” Again: this smells like another paragraph hijacked by the pro-DRM lobby.

Going back a few paragraphs, to ¶ 24: it’s good to see the report pointing out that the “reduction of the music business” must be considered in the context of the “general state of the economy.” It further recommends to “inquire if money is being spent on other forms of entertainment instead.”

¶ 29: “Some industry respondents suggested that consumers should welcome TPM systems because it would prevent them from committing illegal acts.” <irony>In other words: DRM is a feature!</irony>

¶ 30 mentions that DRM “can be used to segment markets so that different people people pay different prices.” My question (leaving the possible problems that come with price segmentation for another time): why do you need DRM for this?!

I don’t know very much about British copyright law, but if I read ¶ 41 and ¶ 43 correctly, making backups of CDs you own (and, for that matter, copying CD tracks to your iPod) seems to be illegal in the UK.

¶ 45 and ¶ 49 point out that DRM prevents the development of interoperable, innovative applications, cfr. the non-existence of “portable video jukeboxes”. Great this is included in the report.

Also great is ¶ 53, quoting Paul Sanders: “Paul […] pointed out that rights holders had given up monopolies in the past to assist other industries, and in the end sell more content […]. He suggested that the music industry would gain, rather than lose, by dimishing their rights.”

An interesting point is raised in ¶ 68: as DRM will be implemented on the hardware level, the report says it is “quite possible that TPM systems will become unbreakable. We therefore believe that permitting circumvention is unlikely to be a long term method of addressing an ill, and that the proper way to address a serious problem would always be to require the removal, or partial removal, of the TPM system.”

¶ 71 mentions that some big content guys aren’t very enthusiast about Creative Commons licenses. They pointed out that CC licenses “could affect an artist’s ability to enter into an exclusive license at a later stage.” The report rightfully points out that, in case CC licenses become “commonplace for bands […], the industry approach to ‘exclusivity’ will doubtless be tempered by the new reality.” A very sane remark, that is.

I like the concept of libraries as a “lender of last resort” that is put forward in ¶ 75: a good argument for DRM-free library collections.

In ¶ 88, an interesting explanation for the phenomenon of disabled read-aloud functionality on eBooks, a setting that undoubtedly hurts visually impaired users of the content in question: “[I]n some cases the problem was that “audio rights” had been sold to another party and the eBook publisher was being cautious not to infringe.” Needless to say, “there is a very significant difference between a trained actor’s performance […] and what can be achieved by computerised text-to-speech systems.” It’s just incredible that this kind of stuff happens.

¶ 110 talks about what to do when DRM systems are discontinued. APIG “reluctantly agree[s] that this is an issue best left to the market,” making the comparison with other outdated tech for which the government didn’t dictate any special arrangements. I don’t know if it’s that simple though: imagine copy-controlled CD software that is not compatible with Windows Vista, for example… (for more, see CD DRM: Compatibility and Software Updates).

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