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UK inquiry into DRM and the law

Will MPs toe the line on DRM?

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The All Party Parliamentary Internet Group (APIG) is to hold a public inquiry into the issues surrounding Digital Rights Management (DRM), including the degree of protection needed for both copyright holders and consumers.

DRM software is designed to protect copyright in material such as music, films or software that is stored or transmitted digitally. It works by encrypting the content and managing how that content is used.

The policy debate around DRM is often cast as an argument between publishers of software, music and movies, anxious to prevent revenue loss from illegal duplication; and consumers, who fear they may lose existing rights to freely enjoy what they have purchased and to pass it on to others when they have finished with it.

The issue has hit the headlines recently as music giant Sony BMG has come under fire for selling CDs that install allegedly dangerous copy-control software on user’s PCs. The firm has now temporarily ceased production of the CDs.

However, to portray the issues surrounding DRM as merely a consumer versus publisher debate is misleading, said APIG today.

APIG exists to provide a discussion forum between new media industries and Parliamentarians for the mutual benefit of both parties. It informs Parliamentary debate through meetings, informal receptions and reports.

It points to wider applications of DRM in, for example, allowing individuals to buy the right to read a book just once, or pay a fraction of a penny every time they play a song. This allows publishers greater flexibility in the services they offer and leads to increased consumer choice, says the Parliamentary Group.

“DRM systems bring threats and opportunities to both publishers and consumers,” said APIG Chairman Derek Wyatt MP. “This inquiry will seek to establish how consumers, artists and the distribution companies should be protected in a continually evolving market place.”

The inquiry will focus on:

  • Whether DRM distorts traditional tradeoffs in copyright law;
  • Whether new types of content sharing license (such as Creative Commons or Copyleft) need legislation changes to be effective;
  • How copyright deposit libraries should deal with DRM issues;
  • How consumers should be protected when DRM systems are discontinued;
  • To what extent DRM systems should be forced to make exceptions for the partially sighted and people with other disabilities;
  • What legal protections DRM systems should have from those who wish to circumvent them;
  • Whether DRM systems can have unintended consequences on computer functionality;
  • The role of the UK Parliament in influencing the global agenda for this type of technical issue.

APIG requires written evidence from interested parties by 21st December 2005.

Copyright © 2005, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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