Cambridge study on DRM and freedom of expression

Patricia Akester of the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law at the University of Cambridge has released a comprehensive empirical study on the effects of DRM on copyright exceptions relied upon by libraries, educators, and consumers. The study is interesting because it includes interviews with all the major players - libraries, consumers, educators, students, and groups representing the blind; the DRM providers such as Microsoft, RealNetworks, and Adobe; and the content owners including the IFPI and MPA.

The study succeeds in pointing to some clear negative effects of DRM and a legal system that provides legal protection for DRM. While the content owners repeatedly refer to DRM as an enabler and the DRM providers claim to offer sufficiently sophisticated products that can account for copyright exceptions, it quickly becomes clear that actual purchasers and users of DRM'd products face restrictions that run counter to the law. Library patrons lose access to works that contain DRM and the library expresses concerns about digital preservation, film teachers and students acknowledge that they use illegal (in the UK) programs to circumvent, the groups representing the blind cite cases where works cannot be read aloud, and consumer groups note that unexpected limitations often leave consumers stuck or shut out of their purchasers. The study provides several recommendations for statutory reform, but if applied to the Canadian context the answer is clear - don't do what we did.

Michael Geist is a law professor and the Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa.