An honest expansion of cinema into the home

I have never hidden that I considerso-called Digital Rights Management (DRM) to be dishonest, oftencalling it Dishonest Relationship Misinformation. I have alsosuggested that fairness is a matter of lawand not technology. I will use the expansion of cinemainto the home to illustrate the differences.

The cinemarelationship

The relationships in thetraditional cinema experience are simple. Copyright holdersauthorize movie theatres to display (public performance in copyrightterms) the movie. Audiences pay for tickets to enter into thetheatre, and are presumed to not be doing any copyright regulatedactivities (ie: no recording, etc).

Put in other terms, copyrightholders authorize a platform to display the content. The platform isowned by someone other than the audience, with the audience onlydoing things that do not require a license or any interaction withcopyright law at all. If an audience member doesn't pay their ticketand goes in anyway, they are breaking the law but it is not copyrightlaw: most likely trespass.

Thetraditional/analog home entertainment experience

This is where the audiencesowns the platform, and purchases, rents or licenses content that can bedisplayed on the hardware that they own (VCR, TV, cassette/recordplayers, stereo, etc). It is the audience that chooses what brandsof technology they will purchase, and copyright holders directlylicense audiences to do any copyright regulated activities. If thehardware is locked in any way to keep unauthorized people away fromit, it is the owner (audience) and not a third party that has thekeys.

The media formats that win arethose that are not dependant on any specific technology brand, withvendor-neutral standards being the norm and the most open platformwinning when there are less open competitors (VHS winning overBetamax).

An extension ofcinema into the home

With digital technology it is possible to createa smart technology platform that is owned by a third party just asthe movie theatres are, and yet the sound and picture are viewablefrom within the home.

The platform could be owned bya variety of intermediaries, including cable companies or possiblyeven the traditional theatres wanting to move into this market. Theplatform would be locked such that it is the owner, not audience,that controls the platform. Like the traditional cinema experience,the audience is presumed to not be doing any copyright regulatedactivities and thus do not need to be licensed by copyright holders.

From the perspective of theaudience, they are renting or otherwise possess but do not own thetechnology platform. They are paying fees to the platform owner toview content just as they would for cinema outside the home.

There is an obvious need toregulate this relationship to ensure that the privacy and otherrights of audiences are protected, just like we have laws to protecttenants who are living in a home owned by someone else.

Like any other situation withlocked property, it must be illegal for someone other than the ownerto circumvent the locks. It must be made clear to audiences that nomatter what the payment system is (one time, monthly, whatever) thatthey do not own the hardware, and should never be confused intobelieving that they do. Confusion on the question of ownership willmake enforcement of the property rights and the locks protectingthose rights far more complex. Audiences should not be held legallyresponsible when the question of ownership is deliberately obfuscatedby the platform owner or their agents.

What is wrong withthe current DRM situation

The problem with current DRMsystems is that they are offering technology similar to what Idescribed as the extension of the cinema relationship into the home,but misdirecting policy makers and the public by falsely claiming itis like the traditional/analog home entertainment experience. The questionof who owns what, who manages the keys to digital locks, and whatregulatory regime should be used to keep all the variousrelationships fair and honest are deliberately obfuscated.

Anyone with a respect for therule of law should be rejecting this obfuscation, but unfortunatelylawmakers currently seem unaware of these abuses.

A technology person willnotice that what I described as a honest extension of cinema into thehome uses pretty much the identical technology to what is currentlycalled DRM. The difference is entirely in the honesty of therelationships, and whether the appropriate laws are regulating thoserelationships.

Federal Copyright Bill -32,currently being debated by a special legislative committee, grantslegal protection to this deliberate and dishonest obfuscation. Whileit is possible to ratify the two 1996 WIPO treaties and respect thetraditional contours of existing Canadian law (federal andprovincial), the government has thus far chosen a very differentpath. I believe it is critical that Canadians speak out and demandthat politicians pay better attention to this critical issue.

Russell McOrmond is a self employed consultant,policy coordinator for CLUE:Canada's Association for Free/Libre and Open Source Software,co-coordinator for Getting Open Source Logic INto Governments (GOSLING),and host for DigitalCopyright Canada.

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