In remembrance: DRMs

Last week, I was at a WIPO-organized forum on copyright and related rights in Singapore.Several persons spoke about digital rights management (or DRMs).
Written by ZDNet Staff, Contributor

Last week, I was at a WIPO-organized forum on copyright and related rights in Singapore.

Several persons spoke about digital rights management (or DRMs). DRMs are access control measure technologies used by copyright owners to control use of their rights, by controlling the usage of digital content and devices. Depending on which camp you are from, there are various views.

A content owner would say that DRMs are "enablers" because they enable copyright holders to offer more choices--for example, you can now buy a one-time only viewing DVD for $10 instead of multiple-viewing DVD if you only wanted to watch that DVD once. So in the copyright holder's view, the consumer is empowered by choice. If you were a user struggling with DRM like many did not very long ago, you would be frustrated.

However, the real crux is that DRM is largely used to control clearly illegitimate use (as opposed to excessive use) of copyright, and copyright holders have been pushing for DRM-legislation that outlaw the making and use of DRM circumvention devices. U.S. did so with the DMCA and Singapore followed with their amendments to the Copyright Act.

A policy maker at the forum commented that when the specific protection for DRMs were pushed for, there were issues as DRMs could theoretically be used to cloak with copyright protection, what would already not be protected by copyright law such as public domain works and expired works. However, the policy choice of having persons running around with DRM-circumvention devices was unacceptable and hence, DRM-legislation was introduced and exceptions were created. This frank disclosure was surprising as it suggests the approach of cutting off a leg to get rid of a scar and then looking for prosthetics to replace the leg.

In any case, there are suggestions that the unsatisfactory state of the technology (despite the blunt effect of the law) has led to some manufacturers abandoning DRM.

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