Digital Rights Management 2012 Review

This year brought library e-books. Imagine enjoying reading without worn discolored pages and coffee stains. Reserving and downloading books from any location had made e-reading easily accessible to anyone carrying a mobile device. Enjoying the New York Times, The Week Magazine and finishing a library book with the push of a button, tap of the screen at a single setting meant carrying less in my briefcase and added new meaning to the term virtual office. Do you need to own a Kindle or Nook? Not really, in fact I’m using my iPhone and iPad with Kindle and Overdrive software for e-library items. Imagine never having to pay a late charge as at the end of two weeks, poof! The Digital Rights Management “DRM” software cleanses your device. Kindle worked splendidly with each device offering easy indexing and recalling my previous location. Overdrive, not so much, as the navigation seemed unwieldy at times. You’ll need to use both as the DRM licenses vary depending upon your digital library. If there’s a downside, using the devices found me reading less of the Times than on weekends when the print edition was delivered. Also, muffin crumbs and breakfast generally are not conducive to device screens. However spilled coffee aside, the selection and breadth of data delivered via this platform is phenomenal.

This brings us to the Google “Library Project.” As you may recall, Google intended to copy and catalog every publication for the Internet. Many of these publications were copyright protected. The authors and publishers sued Google for copyright infringement and the parties negotiated a settlement in 2009 that was rejected by the Court. Now Google has entered into a settlement with the publishers that acknowledges the rights and interests of copyright-holders. Publishers can choose to make available or choose to remove their books and journals digitized by Google for its Library Project. Those deciding not to remove their works will have the option to receive a digital copy for their use. Although authors were not included in this settlement, many have embraced digital media for their works. Complimentary chapters are now available and the pricing for many self-published e-books ranges as low as $.99 per download. Clearly more authors are accepting the digital book business model for their works.

The exemptions from the anti-circumvention provisions of The Digital Millennium Copyright Act “DMCA” were also in the news for 2012. The DMCA makes it illegal to use, produce or distribute the technology, devices or services that would allow users of copyrighted materials to circumvent the DRM measures that control access. Violation is a criminal offense. However, the Act has been criticized for preventing the “Fair Use” of copyrighted materials as allowed by law. Relief to some extent is provided in this year’s exemptions including a provision exempting video screen capture, where the alternative is a low quality source, and movie DVDs, where the use is limited to a small clip and confined to a non-commercial enterprise such as criticism, comment or educational purposes. See Exemption to Prohibition on Circumvention of Copyright Protection Systems for Access Control Technologies for discussion of these and other exemptions to the DMCA.

Finally, we come to those scofflaws who facilitate the pirating of copyrighted materials for wholesale distribution. Operated by an organization registered in the Seychelles, the Pirate Bay bills itself as the “world’s largest tracker of BitTorrent files.” According to CNN, Pirate Bay has been in operation 9 years taking advantage of Sweden’s lax copyright laws. Using BitTorrent, a free, peer-to-peer software program that lets users swap and download large media files, Pirate Bay became hugely popular. Although BitTorrent has many legitimate uses, its alleged primary use is to illegally trade movies, music and other copyrighted content. The Pirate Bay business model established a torrent tracking network, linking together users who connect directly to make their trades. As copyright-protected files never sit on the site’s own servers, it claims a dubious legality as a platform capable of non-infringing use, similar to what Napster and Grokster tried in the US, a claim that has been shot down in this country and most recently by the Supreme Court of Sweden which refused to hear an appeal this February. Notably through name change, proxy sites and other technological measures, it has continued to operate in one form or another most of this year. In August 2012, it still ranked as the 76th most visited website in the world according to Web information company Alexa Internet.

In 2013, among the exciting developments on tap is the applicability of the “first sale” doctrine to digital music. In the past, an owner of a recording such as an LP could resell the item as rights were extinguished upon the first sale. However, the case of EMI v. ReDigi in the NY Federal District is set to decide this issue. So stay tuned. May everyone have a joyous holiday season and happy new year!