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How TMS and RMI will spoil your listening

Powerful copyright owners are about to take control of your right to listen to tracks you've paid for. And they know what you're listening to...


Anyone that knows me will know that I stand for freedom of enjoyment of music. Pirates and counterfeiters should be pursued, caught and punished, but people going about their everyday lives and enjoying music, films and videos should be able to do as they please without fear of retribution, or impediment to their pleasure.

However we live in a world rapidly approaching the one envisioned in George Orwell's 1984, where the state seeks to control our every move, and pleasure is rigidly controlled.

So it is with digital rights management. The 'rights' are those of the record companies and film studios of course, not your rights to enjoy. So now when you go into a record store, you can buy a CD with protection software that will prevent it playing on your computer, and in the process probably stop it working on your car stereo too. You can download a track from a paid-for service, but you are limited to how many times you can copy it, and indeed which devices you can copy it onto.

The US has its Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the UK its Copyright Directive and now there is even the Russian Federation Law on Copyright and Neighboring Rights. These laws all concern 'technological protection measures' (TPMs), and 'rights management information' (RMI), among other matters. A TPM is a means that prevents or limits copying, which in general is used to control your ability to buy once then enjoy your purchase on a number of devices. RMI is on the surface innocent as it is only used to track copyright ownership information that, when used appropriately, could ensure that writers and composers get justly rewarded. However, it could also form the basis of a future 'pay per play' system. You could find yourself buying a track, then having to pay every time you listen to it. I can tell you that copyright owners would dearly love for us to fall for that.

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And in all three acts quoted above, it is illegal for anyone to manufacture or deal in any way with a device intended to circumvent TPM, and it is unlawful to manufacture or deal in any work from which RMI has been removed. You could be breaking the law just to listen to a track from which RMI has been removed, perhaps without your knowledge.

Just to stress - I am totally in favor of writers, producers and copyright owners being justly rewarded for their work. But to me, buying a CD or paying for a download is enough. After that, an individual should be able to enjoy their purchase in any way they want for as long as they want, without ever having to pay again, or risking the loss of their purchase through TPM or RMI measures (if they lose the CD, then it's their own silly fault!).

George Orwell might have been wrong about the date, but the world portrayed in 1984 now seems just around the corner

By David Mellor Sunday January 30, 2005