Proposed UK Copyright Law Damages Human Rights
by Niall Douglas in association with
This is the third of a series of articles about threats to our industry - not
just to the IT contracting industry, but to any part of IT which is indigenous
to Europe and most specifically the United Kingdom,
which is in my opinion the most vulnerable of the IT industries within the EU.
This article along with others in this series explores the consequences of
draft UK implementation of
the European Copyright Directive (2001/29/EC) if the draft were to pass into
law as-is. The UK Patent Office is accepting commentary from the public until
October 31st 2002 - though it is better if
your MP makes the comment instead of you. We shall warn you that the UK
Patent Office has a history of ignoring any comments not to its liking, so be
prepared that we may have to fight for amendments to the bill in the Commons
sometime in Spring 2003.
While this series is primarily about the direct effects on the IT industry,
it would be remiss of us not to at least mention the additional effects on our
culture and society. After all, we are people before we are IT professionals and
what affects everyone also affects us.
There are some worrying and wide-ranging consequences for this proposed
change in law. To be fair, some of them appear to be the result of this being a
draft law and I would guess they will probably be remedied before the final
draft is issued to the Commons. However, just to be safe, I shall outline these
- Making private copies of live performances will no longer be legal
While the more obvious examples would be tape recording a live music set
or camcordering a football match, there is no reason why making a video of a
child's school performance would not be similarly restricted. In fact, there
is no technical reason why taping a man walking across the road would not be
an infringement of his copyright!
- Providers are liable if they carry a device capable of circumventing
While technically shops selling something as multipurpose as a felt-tip
pen could be liable, it's more likely ISP's and telecommunications providers
would be liable for transmitting programs capable of circumvention. Worse
still, the entire Linux OS or any other OS running on popular hardware could
be classed as a circumvention device when
arrives as by rewriting the device drivers one could overcome the digital
rights management hardware - and thus circumvent a content protection device.
Imagine if you will the current situation without any competent alternative to
a TCPA-compliant OS for all TCPA-compliant hardware. Imagine being unable to
obtain RedHat Linux for Intel hardware because everyone will refuse to sell it
and all the network providers will try and block downloads.
Disabled people will be banned from using aids to view encrypted content
If you were disabled in a way which lost you
much of an ability such as vision or hearing, you would use one of the many
devices available for converting say text into Braille or say pictures into
some other format you could touch. Indeed there are computer aided devices
whose sole purpose is to convert one format into another more easily
accessible for those disabled.
Unfortunately, the UK draft law as it stands make it illegal to make copies of
encrypted content unless the rights owner has given you the specific right
(probably for an extra fee, that is if they are bothered at all). Again,
rights management hardware and software will prevent you from ignoring the law
or trying to work around it, both of which of course will also become criminal
acts. The sole exception to this is television broadcasts (probably for
teletext), but everything else is covered.
Once again, the EU directive explicitly says exceptions should be provided for
disabled people but again inexplicably it makes their implementation optional.
Culturally important works will forever be lost to society
Imagine if the Beatles appeared in ten years
time and all the work they ever produced was encrypted with pay-per-listen
using Digital Rights Management (DRM). Imagine then if there were an accident
and the master copy was destroyed, or maybe even the owning studio went bust
and decades past with legal wrangling over the ownership.
The big problem is that while encrypted content uses some central server to
activate your right to listen to the music, there is no "time bomb" built into
the system to have the music become automatically unlocked when its copyright
expires (which under the EU directive will be around fifty years). I can see
no technical reason when it is possible to authenticate right to use something
using a central server to not also check the time and if more than fifty years
has passed to permanently unlock the music. This could be included in the UK
draft under the exceptions permitted by the EU directive.
Just imagine great works of art like Picasso or Dali, or movies like The Usual
Suspects or even Star Wars, or even classic games like Doom all becoming
permanently lost to society forever. And to prevent it all we need is a few
extra lines of code - if after all they want to force us to behave in a more
constrained way and pay them every time we use something, surely we can demand
they cannot escape their legal obligation to place their content in the public
domain after its copyright expires?
26th September 2002