What should DRM-related laws look like?

Posted in DRM, Legal at 5:46 pm by Jens Hardings

We have become used to think of DRM-related laws in terms of one-sided issues that consider only the publishers and completely ignore the general public as well as the potential authors of new material. The EUCD, DMCA and other implementations of the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.

Reading the articles on PRM as the next step by Ed Felten, about how the reasons put forward to justify DRM-related laws have shifted, I started reasoning about what such a law should look like. So, here I present some thoughts on what a law regarding DRM, that really considers the general public (society) and potential new authors, should look like.

Basically, people are used to make things in certain way. The problem DRM poses is that it has the potential to force a change in the way people can do things, without ever telling anybody about it until it is too late. This is why the “trusted computing” has been rephrased as “treacherous computing”: it effectively deceipts the general public into beleiving what it is told (better quality of some “content”) as being the only consequences of the new technologies. But the most important characteristics are kept quiet and do not surface until the users have already made their choices, the market has accepted some technology under false premises and there is no turning back.

In order to avoid this treacherous method of forcing certain technologies to unsuspecting users, the users should have all of the information before choosing, which is a very basic requirement by the way. The steps to force this could be the following. In order to distribute a device that enforces DRM, it is necessary for the vendor to:

  1. inform exactly and in detail how the DRM solution will work and what the consequences are for end users. (specification)
  2. provide ways to verify reliably that the devices effectively work exactly as described in the specification. The best way to do so would be to make the source code available and provide a way to compile the source into the binary that is effectively distributed along with the devices.
  3. allow the user to keep the old specification or override (circumvent) the DRM when a change is made to the original specification.

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