Report on Panel:
Beyond Copyright: The Brave New World of Digital Rights Management
by Ben Wyrick
Dan Burk summed
it up: "The Internet is the biggest copy machine in the world."
catalyzed by the Internet is allowing a greater dissemination and
propagation of knowledge than ever before. And much of that information
is intellectual property, some of which is protected by U.S. copyright
is currently in a state of flux, due to recent legislation such
as the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed in 1998.
What are the rights
of creators, distributors, and end-users of material under the DMCA
and how have those rights changed since the U.S. Constitution was
penned? Do we have a reasonable system for protecting everyone's
rights under current law?
These were the
questions discussed in a panel titled "Beyond Copyright: The
Brave New World of Digital Rights Management," chaired by Robert
Ellis, SIGGRAPH Public Policy Program Chair.
Also on the panel
were Dan Burk, a University of Minnesota law professor, Deborah
Neville, an attorney who has represented authors and Hollywood studios,
Barbara Simons, ACM Past President and ACM U.S. Public Policy Committee
Co-Chair, and Sarah Stein, a media professor at North Carolina State
University with a background in documentary film.
calls for copyright protection to "promote the progress of
science and useful arts." It states that copyrights are to
be of a limited term, after which time they revert to the public
domain. According to Burk, the idea is for the public to benefit
from ideas, but under DMCA, distribution middlemen, record companies,
and publishers are reaping the benefits.
For example, DVDs
are protected against duplication by the Content Scrambling System
(CSS), a weak method of encryption. A consumer purchasing a DVD
remains unable to copy that DVD even after the copyright has run
out, in essence keeping the DVD out of the public domain forever,
a violation of original copyright law.
Enter DeCSS. DeCSS
is a computer program which circumvents the encryption on DVDs and
allows them to be copied or viewed on alternate operating systems
such as Linux. It could be argued that DeCSS restores the spirit
of early copyright law, returning the legal concept of "fair
use" to DVDs.
The purpose of
fair use, according to Burk, is to allow "enough play in the
joints" between the needs of the creator and the needs of the
user. Fair use allows the duplication of copyrighted material for
academic or research purposes, reviews of a product by critics,
and other rights. Fair use walks the thin line between protecting
the rights of the artist and allowing legitimate uses of a purchased
product by the consumer.
have academic institutions the way we know them without fair use,"
Stein says, referring to the heavy reliance universities and libraries
place on fair use. The panelists argued that DMCA seriously erodes
the doctrine of fair use and encouraged audience members to become
politically active in issues of intellectual property.
DMCA has brought in copyright law is the introduction of criminal
penalties for reverse engineering and other forms of infringement.
Formerly the penalties were civil only, involving fines. Now you
can go to jail. And supplying someone with the ability to circumvent
encryption is illegal, even if the protected material is not copyrighted.
According to Stein,
such provisions benefit distributors such as record companies, as
opposed to the musicians themselves. Burk believes the erosion of
fair use under DMCA may be unconstitutional due to conflicts with
freedom of speech.
is out of control," warns Burk, who believes the spirit of
the DMCA is out of line with what the public thinks is fair. Neville
points to profit as a motive for restricting fair use, and attributes
the rise of illegal copying and hacking to unfair prices for media.
Simons spoke of
the positive side of peer-to-peer file sharing networks. She views
them as empowering the artist, who would then rely less on record
companies for distribution. Hence the record companies' aversion
to such networks.
the best legislation money can buy," said Burk, who called
attendees to become the Rosa Parks of the copyright movement and
take back control of intellectual property from Bill Gates and Jack
the call for civil disobedience, but warned that violating the DMCA
could have serious repercussions. She added that professional societies
like the ACM can help lead the way to workable legislation.
agreed that a positive change in current law needs to take place:
"People should not be thrown in jail for writing code,"