Consumer group calls for DRM safeguards

Many companies are abusing data protection laws and consumer protection by trying to restrict their customers, claims the National Consumer Council

The National Consumer Council has told MPs that companies are threatening civil liberties through their use of digital rights management, and called for legislation to regulate the use of DRM.

In a submission to the parliamentary All Party Parliamentary Internet Group (APIG), which has launched an investigation into DRM, the NCC claimed that DRM is already constraining the legitimate consumer use of digital content, and undermining consumers existing rights under consumer protection and data protection laws.

In particular, the NCC cited Sony's controversial use of rootkit-like software on some music CDs as evidence that self-regulation isn't working.

"Because of the current situation, consumers face security risks to their equipment, limitations on their use of products, poor information when purchasing products and unfair contract terms," said Jill Johnstone, director of policy at the NCC, in a statement.

"Whilst we recognise the value of intellectual-property rights, we have little confidence in self-regulation by the industry. We welcome this opportunity to present our concerns to MPs and hope that this will ultimately lead to an improvement the rights of consumers," Johnstone added.

APIG's inquiry is wide-ranging, and will examine whether free software licences need legislation changes to be effective, how consumers should be protected when DRM systems are discontinued and what legal sanctions those who circumvent DRM systems should face.

The Group stopped accepting evidence on 13 January, and plans to issue a report in March.

DRM hit the headlines across the world last year after it was discovered that Sony had used a DRM technology that used a rootkit to hide itself on a user's PC. This rootkit has subsequently been exploited by virus writers to try and make their own malicious code undetectable.

Some IT departments were forced to consider banning employees from bringing their own CDs into the workplace, in an attempt to avoid infection.

Sony has now withdrawn CDs containing the rootkit DRM, after a storm of controversy, threats of boycott and a flurry of lawsuits.