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Alan Cox has issued a wake up call to the Linux community amid concerns that the pending European Union Copyright Directive (EUCD) could stymie open source development.

The directive, which was approved last year, extends European copyright legislation so that it is even more restrictive than America's controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), critics argue. National governments have until December 22 to incorporate the directive in national legislation.

If it goes through unmodified, the EUCD would make it a criminal offence to break or attempt to break the copy protection or Digital Rights Management systems on digital content such as music, software or eBooks. As it stands, the EUCD may lead to a rerun of Dmitri Sklyarov's prosecution, prevent teachers copying materials for their students or other legitimate uses of copyright material, opponents believe.

The DMCA grants limited permission to circumvent copyright protection in order to make braille copies of eBooks for use by the blind, for example, but the EUCD makes such exceptions optional for member states, so they need not be implemented.

Concerns about disabled access was one of the issues highlighted by open source heavyweight Alan Cox in a speech made during a Campaign for Digital Rights mini-conference, held at London's City University last night.

Cox wants to see clear exceptions for open source developers and explained some of the negative effects of the EUCD during a well received presentation.

It's feared the EUCD could create monopolies in file formats, hinder the ability of different operating systems to work together and remove the ability to discuss security issues.

Since it is illegal to circumvent copyright protection, developers would be forced to sign licenses with the creators of a format in order to develop playback tools. This means that a creator could control the market, Cox warned, creating antitrust concerns.

Open source development is in for a rough ride, he suggested, because openness is fundamentally incompatible with DRM technology operating down to the hardware level.

Cox described the directive as a "land grab" by the entertainment industry - and he says it is badly thought out technically. It only takes one person to establish a way a particular technology prevention measure can be circumvented, he pointed out.

Martin Keegan, one of the founder members of the Campaign for Digital Rights (CDR), went further than this and described the EUCD as a "profit maximisation system with the prevention of piracy seen as a beneficial side effect".

So far the EUCD has received little attention but the CDR aims to mobilise opposition against the directive, which the Recording and Publishing Industries are heavily lobbying. The CDR is also protesting against music industry plans to market copy-protected CDs.

The next stage in both campaigns remains unclear from last night's event, but through the conference the CDR has raised awareness about a technically and politically complex issues which have thus far been neglected. ®

Related Stories

Alan Cox stars in EU copyright protest debate
Senator brutalizes Intel rep for resisting CPRM
Brit music indies want copy-protected CDs
Digital right lobbyists picket UK record stores
UK campaigners call for anti 'anti-rip' CD day of action
ElcomSoft attacks DMCA in Sklyarov test case
US courts claim jurisdiction over Sklyarov
US courts kowtow to entertainment industry
Stealth copy protection - where we are now

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