Image credit Brendan Mruk/Matt Lee, CC BY-SA
Today is the International Day Against DRM, a global campaign to raise awareness about the harms of restricting access to legally-acquired content using digital restrictions management (DRM). DRM consists of access control technologies or restrictive licensing agreements that attempt to restrict the use, modification, and distribution of copyright-protected works. Defective by Design says, “DRM creates a damaged good; it prevents you from doing what would be possible without it.”
CC has always attempted to minimize the negative effects of DRM. All the Creative Commons licenses forbid users of those works from adding DRM or other technological measures that would restrict others from using the work in the same way.
More and more creators have been removing the digital locks from their works and experimenting with new business models. At the same time, we see copyright law being misused in service of controlling access and use of legally-acquired content. For example, last year the agricultural machinery manufacturer John Deere attempted to use U.S. copyright law to restrict access to the software code on their tractors. Specifically, John Deere said that provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows them to limit farmers’ ability to inspect and modify software code to fix or enhance the equipment the farmers already own. This is just one example of how DRM has been used to restrict user rights. Luckily the Library of Congress has again adopted a set of exemptions to the DMCA rule that forbids the circumvention of access controls. This way, users can bypass DRM and take advantage of the rights granted to them under the law. However, the list of categories of exemptions is quite limited, and requires interested parties to submit new evidence every three years in order to be granted a renewal.
Another worrying trend is the inclusion of DRM provisions within international trade agreements. And negotiators are pushing DRM anti-circumvention separate from any connection to the effective enforcement of copyright laws. For example, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) adopts criminal penalties for circumventing digital rights management on works, and treats this type of violation as a separate offense regardless of any copyright infringing activity on the underlying content. It is a threat to users’ abilities to use and manipulate the technologies and products they legally own.
We need to end DRM. Get involved in the International Day Against DRM! You can find an event, write a blog post, create a video, translate graphics, and join the discussion. Digital freedom depends on the right to tinker, the right to access information and knowledge, and the right to re-use our shared cultural commons.