Copyright Industry Lawyer – You Can’t Access Legal Content Forever!

The hearing in the United States over whether or not to allow new exceptions to the DMCA, which involves instances where one could legally circumvent DRM, has once again roared into the spotlight. A representative from the MPAA and the RIAA commented “we reject the view […] that copyright owners and their licensees are required to provide consumers with perpetual access to creative works.” This was in response to what happens when a DRM service shuts down, rendering legally purchased music useless for users.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

It’s a legitimate fear as it’s happened multiple times – a music service shutters its DMR music service and servers, rendering all legally purchased tracks useless. For those who do the more honest thing of purchasing music, the very idea that a corporate entity could render legally purchased material useless seems like a betrayal to consumer confidence. It’s not a realistic situation for those that spent 10’s of thousands of dollars on vinyl copies of music (that one day, the content themselves all fail at the same time) but it can technically happen with DRM encoded music.

It’s partly why it makes Steven J. Metalitz’s comments regarding authentification servers during a Q&A session of a copyright hearing so outrageous.

“we reject the view,” Metalitz writes (PDF), “that copyright owners and their licensees are required to provide consumers with perpetual access to creative works. No other product or service providers are held to such lofty standards.”

He then explains the reasoning behind it, “No one expects computers or other electronic devices to work properly in perpetuity, and there is no reason that any particular mode of distributing copyrighted works should be required to do so.”

For many, this would mean that back-ups are illegal – especially in the event of a failure either on the user end or the retailers side of it. That would mean that people would be asked to pay for their legally purchased content again – so much for fair use.

“To recognize the proposed exemption would surely discourage any content provider from entering the marketplace for online distribution or offering consumers the convenience of online authentication of disc-based content unless it was committed to do so — or to guarantee the ability of a third -party service to do so — forever.” He continues, “This would not be good for consumers, who would find a marketplace with less innovation and fewer choices and options. Any argument that such barriers to entry are needed to protect consumers in some way is more appropriately addressed to the Federal Trade Commission, rather than to the Register and the Librarian in this proceeding.”

It’s comments like this that re-enforces what many have known for a very long time already – when you “purchase” content with DRM, you don’t own it, you merely rent it. With thinking like this, it’s no surprise when users turn to piracy. It’s not like they simply want to get content for free, it’s just that they want to be able to have the option to create a way to recover their content in the event something goes wrong – something the industry doesn’t seem to keen on allowing. It’s a mystery how preventing back-ups would be discouraging users and innovation when plenty of innovation revolves around re-using the works in unique ways – something DRM prevents.

“I’ve got 78RPM records from my grandparents’ basement that play just fine today — and I’ve got Logo programs I wrote in 1979 that I can run today. I own a piano roll from 1903 that I can play back if I can clear the space for a player piano. I’ve got books printed in the 17th century that can still be read” Cory Doctorow wrote in response, “and if they can’t be read, they can be scanned and the scans can be read. This is what an open format means.”

“It’s hilarious that the same yahoos who argue for perpetual copyright (implying that copyrighted works have value forever) also argue for time-limited ownership (implying that people who buy copyrighted works should be content to enjoy them for a few weeks or years until the DRM stops working).” Doctorow said.

There’s plenty out there who would easily recognize that given that the computer is effectively a copying machine for the most part, it’s not surprising that many would see this latest argument from the industry as backwards at best.

[Via Arstechnica]

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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