Some thoughts on Sony DRM

I was amazed to see a message from a librarian who was applauding Sony’s DRM moves. This librarian believed that Sony had the right to limit copying as much as it wanted (an opinion), and that the problems with Sony DRM would just affect all those pirates out there. This was my response.

I’m sure most of us can agree that widescale copyright infringement is a problem, and is wrong as well as being illegal. However, the Sony situation is about something completely different- and I’d have concerns with the technology solutions described [in the message, the librarian advocated a small number of copies allowed, then the disk stopped working].

In this particular situation, Sony isn’t “sticking it” to people who are infringing copyright. They are “sticking it” to *anyone who puts one of the “protected” CDs in their computer.* Not just people who copy, but anyone at all. The rootkit opened up vulnerabilities to any Windows-based PCs of completely innocent consumers, leaving them vulernable to attackers, viruses, worms, and other online threats. That’s what the lawsuits are about.

Additionally, the protection measures are pretty consumer unfriendly anyway. No technology exists that is good enough to determine whether or not a use is infringing.

Sony could create a system to copy something only three times, but that completely ignores legitimate uses of copying. While “violating copyright” isn’t a right, there are legitimate and legal reasons for copying. Copying your CDs to our iPods (ie, space shifting), is an established and legal practice. Copying a software CD for backup is also allowed. Copying excerpts that are a fair use- for example, for purposes of scholarship, cricitism, education, and so on- may be completely fair. Not only are these uses fair and legal, but they are also very important. Technology can’t make that distinction. Sony’s “protection” mechanisms can’t make those distinctions. And these uses aren’t violating copyrights. They are exemptions to the exclusive rights that copyright holders have, and they are necessary uses.

Another big copyright exemption is the doctrine of first sale- the one that lets libraries lend out books and other materials. Many technological protection measures stop that, also.

It’s always good to go back to the Constitutional basis for copyright in the U.S. when looking at these types of situations. Copyright exists “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;” -U.S. CONST., art. I, § 8, cl. 8.

I can’t say that Sony’s actions represented progress in any sense of the word. Education would be a better option… but that’s my opinion.

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