Digital Rights Management

Digital rights management (DRM)systems can provide protection against copyright piracy, but they also restrict access to these protected works to the disadvantage of legitimate users.

Digitisation and the Internet made it possible for us to easily access and share cultural works at practically no cost from anywhere in the world.

This made it extremely easy to pirate music, videos and software on the Internet, especially with the rise of peer-to-peer sharing platforms. The failure of the law to easily hold accountable those involved in piracy on the Internet led to the creation of DRM systems and technological protection measures that control the way audio, video, and software could be accessed on an electronic device.

Using DRM, the content owner can limit the duration for which the file could be viewed by the user, restrict the number of copies that could be made, make a file usable only in certain geographical location, and make the use of the file restricted to specific devices only. A common early example of DRM system was used in DVDs.

DRM allowed users to play a DVD on region-specific DVD players only and restricted the ability of users to copy the video from the DVD to any computer. DRM did not only combat piracy, it also contributed to the creation of new business models that offer consumers more options for acquiring content.

For example, online streaming services (both free and paid) such as Spotify, Hulu and Netflix could not have existed without DRM. Distance learning education programmes and eBook rental services are also dependent on DRM.

While DRM provided a technical solution to the piracy problem, it was not perfect as workarounds for circumventing the protection were not very difficult to discover. This consequently led to the creation of a new set of legal rules specifically prohibiting the circumvention of DRM. Under the Omani law, it is illegal to circumvent DRM or traffic in any equipment designed to circumvent DRM.

Even though DRM has some advantages, it is widely despised by consumers around the world. The biggest problem with DRM is that it stops us from carrying out activities which we are legally entitled to do to copyright protected works.

For example, it is legal in Oman for a librarian to make a copy of certain works for a private researcher, but DRM applied to educational material can make that impossible to do. Similarly, users are allowed under Omani law to make a single back-up copy of a computer program and copy small sections of a video to critique it, but DRM equipped content restricts these activities.

There are also other problems with DRM such as subjecting the privacy of the user or the safety of his systems to risk. Unfortunately, the Omani copyright law makes circumventing DRM an offence no matter what the reasons for that circumvention are.

Oman is a member of a number of international treaties that require Oman to protect against the circumvention of DRM, but these treaties provide flexibilities that Oman has not taken advantage of. For example, Article 15.4.7(d) of the Oman-US Free Trade Agreement allows the Omani domestic law to have eight exceptions to the DRM anti-circumvention provisions for the purpose of reverse-engineering research, security protection, protection of minors, and other issues.

DRM is not without its advantages, but for these advantages to outweigh its disadvantages, the law should ensure that users are allowed to circumvent DRM when it affects their legitimate uses or personal privacy and safety.

SOURCE: Muscat Daily