Digital Rights, Copyright Enforcement, and a Proposed Compromise

Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Sun, Dec 30, 2007 @ 11:12 AM

Music piracy, movie piracy, tv piracy ... we see it in the news all the time. Yesterday's New York Times carried another article about the long-standing battle between major media entities and customers, with the privacy advocacy community weighing in.

The standard arguments go like this:

Media - We own the copyrights. We're only selling you one copy. You're stealing royalties from the artist when you make a copy and give it to your friends and family.

Customer - I bought it. I own it. There are lots of times I can legally share it. No one stops me from copying or lending any book I've bought.

Privacy - We respect media's copyright, but they're overreaching and unnecessarily capturing personal information as part of their attempted solution.

The reality is somewhere in between:

Some of the media's efforts to solve their problem have involved a) locking down the technology to preclude any copying and b) affixing everyone's personal information to the item to facilitate making infringement cases later. Commonly known as "digital rights management" (DRM) they tend to be more "total control' than "management." And, typicaly, these solutions swing the pendulum well past the bounds of traditional copyright law.

The customers aren't entirely in bounds either. Every copy shop I've ever seen will ask for signed permission from the copyright holder if you try to copy chapters or more from a book. And, even the most honest-minded folks tend to forget about the copyright rules at times. Years ago, I was at a dinner where the most otherwise law abiding woman in her 70s asked who wanted her to make them copies of some recent popular movies. (And, I was working for the FBI at the time!) So, some sort of protective action isn't wholly unwarranted.

My proposed compromise:

That dinner has stayed in my mind as the debate has raged and, recently, I had to tackle the question for a small start-up. Since intensively technical solutions were beyond the scope of the budget, I decided to adopt a web analogy to the FBI seal and warning ... a little education, a little guilt, and a little fear.

When a customer purchases the start-up's audio recordings they will get a very short "terms and conditions" statement:

When you buy ONE copy:

Copies on all your personal devices - your PC, your iPOD, etc.
Giving it to ONE person and deleting your copy
Anything permitted under copyright laws

Giving, loaning, selling, etc. to more than one person

If you violate copyright law, you could be convicted of a crime and/or ordered by a court to pay money for the damages caused.

This is short enough and in large enough font that more customers will read it and not just skip to the "I accept these terms" button.  If my beta tests show they're still not reading it, I'll probably code the window so it sits on the screen for 15 seconds, the time it would take to read it out loud.

For those with the massive budgets of the major media companies, the product could be embedded with or wrapped in code that forced a pop up of the terms and conditions each time a copy or transfer was directed.  For those who want more, the five traditionally permissible uses of copyright material could be explained and/or the the copy owner asked whether his reasons are among them.  

I know that this is not a perfect solution or a technically non-trivial one.  But, perhaps it swings the pendulum more to the center.  And, as the old adage says, a good compromise is one in which neither party is completely satisfied.  


Topics: technology implementing law, DRM, digital rights, copyright