You buy an e-book or a sound track online and there is an attached condition
that you can read the book for a whole year (a year being defined in the
software as 365 solar days from the time you activated your purchase) or
transfer your music to any other device a total of 5 times. In the
beginning, you might think that everything is hunky-dory, till you find that
there were 500 pages in the e-book and you're on the very last page when your
book reader software harshly prohibits you from reading it because you just ran
out of licensed time. Or, you cannot transfer and play your favorite melody in
your car stereo because the limit for the number of transfers has been reached.
While the experiences detailed above may resemble what's been your own
personal experience, they have caused the anti-IPR activists to demand a saner
world for 'rights protected' content. Digitized content like the traditional
(non-digital) content is subject to similar if not worse issues of copyright,
DRM, licensing issues and so on. But are the woes of RPC (rights protected
content) so much that the purpose of rights protection seems cruel and unjust?
There are various ways to protect your content. When it comes to the digital
world, the issues are slightly more complicated.
Consider this: if I buy a hard bound book and give it to you, I have
physically transferred the book to you. And with it goes my ability (or 'right')
to read that book. Now I may photocopy the pages or the whole book and so on,
but that's a different issue (called piracy). When I buy a digital version of
the same book, say as a PDF file, I can easily give you a copy of the book,
retaining a copy for myself. Such copying is the bane of digital content rights
management. The number of issues that we pointed out at the beginning of this
discussion stems from methods being adopted to prevent such 'unauthorized'
Similarly encrypted DVDs prevent their being copied for legitimate uses-like
someone creating a backup of his favorite movies on another medium. Activists
like the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) term this as unilaterally
eliminating the public's fair use rights.
To eliminate infringements, one must also consider why that occurs. For
instance, if one were to take the case of computer software, then price is the
main culprit. After all, who wants to pay tens of thousands of rupees for
software that will be outdated in less than a year? For instance, even before
Microsoft released the latest edition of their Visual Studio .NET 2005 (a
developer environment), they started work on its successor codenamed 'Orcas,'
which is already into its first beta! Similarly, in the entertainment industry,
the reason maybe more of getting your hands on a new release early enough. The
cost of printing copies on a global scale is prohibitive to let the content
publishers (like movie houses and record labels) release something worldwide.
So, they do it in a staggered fashion. And, by the time it reaches some
countries, it maybe a few months later. At that time, the novelty of having seen
or heard it has long worn off. How many times have you seen the 'latest'
Hollywood flick only to be told hours later by a friend or colleague that he has
already seen it in the US the previous October?
Fashion players in the EU are so worried over counterfeiting that all
passengers at EU airports are being randomly sampled for counterfeit goods they
may have purchased. So, if you bought an imitation Gucci bag at Palika Bazaar
(or any other imitation goods market), do not carry it with you if you're
planning a trip to one of the EU countries. Penalties are severe and even
include imprisonment. Illegal tourist street traders (ones that sell you fake
watches and cameras at popular tourist spots) in Italy are fined up to ten
thousand Euros on the spot.
The key question is what recourses are available to the creators of an IP
when an infringement occurs. The Indian industry and foreign analysts believe
that the IT Act of 2000 was a step in the right direction. It gives the law
enforcement some teeth and adds penalties against violators. One necessary
element of such protection is the ability to inspect premises and seize evidence
at will (on suspicion). This privilege has been granted to the Indian law
enforcement agencies via the IT Act. However, this act does little to let law
enforcement agencies raid a location suspected of being the venue for the
Bhai-ka-adda, where scores of software copies are created sitting over gunny
bags. Known Supreme Court advocate Pavan Duggal made exactly the same argument
at a presentation to the FICCI in April 2004.
What is needed?
Something more concrete and something that's enforceable. Countries like
Malaysia and Hong Kong have adopted something called an OML (Optical Media Law).
The OML has provisions similar to what the IT Act gives us for cyber crimes-the
right to inspect at will and seize and destroy IPR violating goods. The model
OML also seeks to license and control (via de-licensing or stopping) entities
involved in optical media piracy activity. They legislated on optical media than
something else because it is the most popular method of information distribution
today. You get software and entertainment material on CDs and DVDs (and soon on
HD-DVDs and dual layer discs).
That said, the industry agrees that optical media will be imminently
displaced by networked downloads. While they are not sure if the bandwagon would
be specially crafted delivery sites, P2P downloads or content sharing mechanisms
(like YouTube), they do agree that this is the way you will see content
distributed (and pirated) in the future. Traditional forms of trying to prevent
piracy include various forms of disc encryption and adding signals that are
transparent to the human eye but destroy quality of input to a recording device.
WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) is a self-financing UN
organization with a special interest in IPR and IPRE. To draw benefits from WIPO
resources and commitments, a country needs to be a signatory to the WIPO
treaties. WIPO administers an international bureau that accepts and processes IP
registrations and applications. The organization is tasked with developing
international IP laws and standards, providing IP protection services, promoting
the use of IP for economic development, educating users and bringing members
together for discussions on intellectual property rights and their protection.
Finding information and hiding it is equally easy on the Net, but tracking usage
of that information (which can happen in the offline world) is a very difficult
task. WIPO offers a combination of two different treaties: WCT (copyright) and
WPPT (performances and phonograms). There are new methods of recording, copying,
distribution and control. The Internet is the most common method for
distribution today. For this reason, the duo of WCT and WPPT is referred to as
the Internet Treaties.
IP can include traditional cultural expressions, knowledge and genetic
resources of a geographical region. To protect all this, currently, WIPO
administers 24 international treaties that include 16 on industrial property and
7 on copyright issues. The US DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and the EU
Copyright Directive are two well known implementations of the WCT and WPPT.
At the time of writing this piece, India is not a signatory to the WIPO
treaties although we have participated in many forums involving WIPO proposals,
drafts and discussions.
What infuriate the user community against protection mechanisms and checks and
measures are the sometimes strange uses of copyright or licensing laws. In one
instance, Microsoft had invoked the DMCA against Slashdot posters, who had
published the specifications of Microsoft implementation of the Kerberos
Protocol. Criticizing the move, Georgetown law professor Julie Cohen contended,
“A publisher can prohibit fair-use commentary simply by implementing access
and disclosure restrictions that bind the entire public.
Anyone who discloses the information, or even tells others how to get it, is
a felon.” See the box elsewhere in this story for extracts from a speech from
noted activist Cory Doctorow, delivered at a Microsoft briefing on digital
Similarly, HP resorted to region-coding their ink cartridges, and software
that's embedded on the cartridge reported the unit to be empty even if it
still had ink, after a preset time interval. The region coding prevents use of
those cartridges in printers belonging to different regions, similar to DVDs
with the same technology.
Copy protection and DRM are good things to prevent unauthorized usage and
duplication of creative art. But, there must be the limits defined and
protection techniques should stay within those limits. When protection
technologies start preventing fair use, then users will complain and find ways
to break the chains and locks. Let the person coming to the cash clerk withdraw
his money in peace. The moment tedious or complicated red tape is introduced, he
will find ways to rob the bank to get his money.