DRM News From All Over

The British Library vs DRM: The BBC reported February 3 that Dr Clive Field, the British Library's director of scholarships and collections, called the increasing restrictions of fair use by digital rights management (DRM) cause for concern.

Restrictive DRM technologies are designed to prevent the public from illegally "sharing" digital media. However, many librarians and other observers point out that they also prevent legitimate uses currently deemed appropriate, such as "fair use" and "library privilege." (Libraries are granted access to and the rights to copy and distribute content by copyright law.) "We have genuinely tried to maintain that balance between the public interest and respecting rights holders," said Dr. Field. "We are genuinely concerned that technology inadvertently may be disturbing that balance, and that would be unhelpful ultimately to the national interest."

The BBC also reported that the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA) testified to the All Party Parliamentary Internet Group's DRM inquiry that it had "widespread concerns in the library, archive, and information community" about the potentially harmful effects of DRM." We have grave concerns about the potential use of DRMs by rightholders to override existing copyright exceptions," LACA said. The problem confronting libraries (and all of us) is that the restrictions would outlast a work's copyright. "As custodians of human memory, [libraries] keep digital works in perpetuity and may need to be able to transfer them to other formats in order to preserve them and make the content fully accessible and usable once out of copyright."

SunnComm promises fix for MediaMax: The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF)announced February 2 that SunComm Technologies, Inc., in response to an EFF open letter, has pledged in that future versions, its MediaMax DRM technology will not install itself automatically even when the consumer declines the end-user license agreement (EULA) that appears when a CD is first inserted in a computer CD or DVD drive, as it does now. SunnComm has also agreed to include uninstallers in all versions of MediaMax software, to submit all future versions to an independent security-testing firm for review, and to release to the public the results of the independent security testing.

The EFF says it has persuaded SunnComm to enter into discussions to allow "legitimate security researchers who have been, are, or will be working to identify security problems with MediaMax" to do so without being accused of copyright violations under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Nettwerk vs the RIAA: How's this for a heart-warming scenario? A recording artist, MC Lars, gets an email on his website from Elisa Greubel, a 15-year-old fan, saying she identified with his "Download This Song." "My family is one of many seemingly randomly chosen families to be sued by the RIAA. No fun. You can't fight them, trying could possibly cost us millions. The line 'they sue little kids downloading hit songs,' basically sums a lot of the whole thing up. I'm not saying it is right to download but the whole lawsuit business is a tad bit outrageous."

Apparently MC Lars agrees, as does his management group, Nettwerk Music Group, which also manages Avril Lavigne, who recorded "Sk8er Boi," one of nine songs the RIAA specifically targeted in one of its flurries of lawsuits. David Greubal, Ms. Greubal's father, was sued by the RIAA for $9000 because of 600 suspected illegal music files on the family's computer. The association informed the Greubals that it would accept $4500 if the family paid within a specified time limit.

Here's where the story gets really interesting. Nettwerk Music Group has encouraged the Greubals to fight, agreeing to pay all of the Greubals' legal fees, in addition to any fines should the family lose the case against the RIAA. Chicago-based Mudd Law Offices will represent the family. Charles Lee Mudd, Jr. has represented many RIAA targets since the association began issuing subpoenas in 2003, but why did Nettwerk get involved?

"Litigation is not 'artist development.' Litigation is a deterrent to creativity and passion and it is hurting the business I love," said Terry McBride, CEO of Nettwerk. "The current actions of the RIAA are not in my artists' best interests."

Bob Lefsetz, in his The Lefsetz Letter, lauds McBride as "a true rock'n'roller." Lefsetz says that McBride has raised the question, "Is the RIAA's strategy right?"

Lefsetz goes on, "But it's more than that. Is the RIAA's strategy just? Is it good for the music? Good for the acts? Good for the fans?

Terry McBride thinks not."

The answer, as Lefsetz sees it, is "mass distribution," which will make "everybody...a music consumer, [with] music on his hard drive. [That's] not only good for the music, it's good for the music business."

Well said, Mr. Lefsetz. Well played, Mr. McBride.