In the UK, a rather lengthy study by a law professor, Patricia Akester, states what many of us already knew, the laws involving use of digital content make things only more difficult for honest people, and those who would use things dishonestly will do so no matter what.

The paper by the professor states that things as innocuous as use of content by a blind person make infringement almost a necessity –

Problems were not hard to find. When Akester spoke with the UK’s Royal National Institute of Blind People, Head of Accessibility Richard Orme told her that those with sight problem have the right “to create accessible copies of works” by using screen reading software, for instance, but these rights can be blocked be restrictive e-book DRM.
Analog “equivalents” aren’t often equivalent in any meaningful sense of the word

“The RNIB is very watchful of the issues around DRM,” said Orme, “because it can see evidence of DRM preventing access to content in a world where digital technology actually makes information more accessible rather than less.”

As an example, take the case of Lynn Holdsworth, who bought an electronic copy of the Bible from Amazon. It refused to allow text-to-speech, which Holdsworth required. She contacted Amazon, which has a policy of not refunding e-books after a successful download.

“On Amazon’s advice, Lynn Holdsworth contacted the publisher, but the publisher referred her back to Amazon,” writes Akester. “Neither Amazon nor the publisher were able to assist her and she ended up obtaining an illegal copy of the work (which her screen reader application could access).”

Rightsholders will always point out that fair use and other exemptions to copyright don’t necessarily allow access to any format the user wants. Professors who need film clips can just camcord off the screen! The blind can use Braille versions!

But analog “equivalents” aren’t often equivalent in any meaningful sense of the word. Holdsworth noted that “it is not always possible to resort to non-digital [books] because of their size. She supplied an example: the standard version of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince contains about 600 pages, the large print version is only slightly bigger (at 998 pages), but the Braille version actually entails ten large volumes of text.”

This late day version of ‘Let them eat cake!’ isn’t playing well in the UK, nor is it in many places around the world. Yet, with all the objections by the average man, legislative bodies all around the world pass these overly restrictive rules which do nothing but aggravate everyday users, and foil attempts to legitimately use content.

From the other side of the coin, the developers of DRM protected content and the schemes themselves don’t see things quite the same way.

To DRM developers and rightsholders, though, these are just edge cases, not worth coding into DRM schemes. Creating DRM that has any sort of security while still accommodating every legal use in every possible market is simply infeasible—though this does lead rightsholders to question the wisdom of DRM.

Shira Perlmutter of global music trade group IFPI told Akester in an interview, “You are not going to get a one size fits all DRM that will deal both with the consumer and the special interests exceptions and, in any case, you do not want to give up a system that works for 99 percent of cases because there is a particular issue with a particular kind of user when you can let the system work and then deal with that user.”

Are rightsholders willing to “deal with users” who experience problems? Some are, but Akester found that many require a legislative prod before taking any action.

The study confirms what anyone who has ever wanted to rip a DVD to their computer or iPod could have told you: DRM, coupled with anticircumvention laws, makes pirates of us all.

Akester offers some possible solutions to the problem. They are worth reading, but they are also unlikely to be implemented for years. In the meantime, copyright exceptions for the blind, libraries, teachers, and for fair use will continue to be limited by a crafty mixture of code and law.

Of course, as Bright points out, the massive lobbying, legislative, legal, and technical effort that underlies all these DRM regimes does so little to stop piracy that we’d be tempted to laugh at the folly of it all if we weren’t already weeping.

above from Ars Technica

also the full paper, and the short version of Akester’s papers

One thing that is not mentioned in the articles, in both Ars Technica, and a similar article in Maximum PC, is the very real possibility that, at least in this country, the laws are being formed by people almost fully in the pocket of the content producers. It is something everyone has in the back of their mind, yet few want to express, perhaps because of the apparent futility.


I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore! – Howard Beale, from the movie, Network.Mad as Hell (Howard Beale-Network)

are you mad as hell about DRM? Write your legislators.

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