``Beyond Copyright: The Brave New World of Digital Rights Management``
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[ Introduction ]
[ ``Beyond Copyright: The Brave New World of Digital Rights Management`` ]
[ SIGGRAPH 2002 Course and Panel Proposals ]
[ ``DSL Woes Spread to Cable Modems: Bankruptcy Cuts Service to Half-Million Homes`` ]
[ Lessig on Copyright ]
August 16, 2001
Dan Burk summed it up: "The Internet is the biggest copy machine in
the world." Digital technology 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 law.
Copyright law 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
The Constitution 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.
"We wouldn't 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.
Another change 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.
"The system 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
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.
"DMCA is 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 Valenti. Simons echoed 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.
The panelists agreed that a positive change in current law needs to
take place: "People should not be thrown in jail for writing code,"