Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Rise of the Machines

Machines may be cool when they walk through walls and eat bullets for breakfast. It's something else if machines prevent you from watching this machinal coolness on your own machine. This consumer rose to the machines, but is still ready to terminate the purchase of his DVD, if he can. Can he? Yes he can, probably:

A consumer who bought a DVD of Terminator 2, and thoroughly checked for hardware requirements and region coding on its cover, got a nasty surprise when he tried to play the movie on his computer. He had to download and install a third party application, and obtain a license via an online server. The server determined that he wasn't located in the US or Canada, the countries to which play back of the movie was apparently restricted, although the DVD cover didn't disclosed this information.

By running his IP address through an anonymous proxy server located in the US he was able to get a license that only allowed him to view the movie for five days, after which a new license had to be acquired. The buyer was not amused, to put it mildly:
"To be honest that really pissed me off, I spent about an hour trying to play back a disc I legitimately bought and went as far as installing and updating a 3rd party application to my system that would allow me to do so, and now I'm only being given a temporary license, where's my rights as a consumer? If this is how future DRM protected content will be distributed I have strong objections to the use of DRM, as this is a prime example of how to quickly alienate any prospective consumers.


Obviously (the producer) has other ideas about that, ideas they should clearly communicate on the dvd cover, instead of simply omitting them to prevent people not buying this two-disk dvd set."
The question is if the producer should have clearly communicated his ideas on the DVD cover? The answer is yes, probably. As lined out in INDICARE's State of the Art Report (PDF), the issue of transparency of product information, and specifically on the use of DRMs, is of importance to consumers to make a well informed (purchasing) decision. In a recent French court case on the labeling of CDs, the court considered that by insufficiently informing a consumer about the scope of the playability of the CD the producer had been guilty of a misleading practice (compare p. 55-56 of the INDICARE Report. Also Helberger 2004). This case shows that consumers may have some legal standing when it comes to the information provision on DRMs.

Article 95(d) of the German copyright law expressively deals with this information provision. To quote from the INDICARE Report: "It states that content protected by technological measures should be clearly marked and indicate the properties of these measures." Likewise, a US proposal for law, the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act, seeks to enhance the transparency for consumers by requiring manufacturers to put informative labels on copy-protected content.

The court case and (proposed) legal provisions aside, consumers are also confronted with restrictive license agreements. If they even come that far, because how many consumers will reroute through a proxy server to play a legimately purchased movie? Only Terminator fans, the sci-fi techno lovers that know how to fight back at the machines?
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This is cross-posting with the INDICARE blog. Check it out for DRM specific content!


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