The United Kingdom is preparing its own version of a digital anti-piracy law, following the publication of proposals designed to implement the European Union Copyright Directive.
In the United States, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has received widespread criticism for restrictions that, among other things, have been used to stop researchers from lecturing on anti-copying technologies and from publishing information on holes in those technologies.
Responses to the U.K.'s proposed law are due Oct. 31. According to the EU, the new rules must be incorporated into law by Dec. 22.
Significant parts of the law include new legal protection for digital watermarks, copy protection systems and other measures used to protect copyright material online. There are also new propopsals aimed at combating Internet piracy. But the most contentious part of the new rules is that which mirrors the DMCA's outlawing of devices intended to circumvent anti-copying technologies.
This summer, U.S. hacker publication 2600 ended its legal fight against a ruling that banned it from posting code that can be used to crack DVD copy protections. The code, called DeCSS, is a program that allows DVD movies to be decoded and played on personal computers.
Under the EU proposal, member countries have an obligation to provide legal protection for technological measures--such as encryption--designed to prevent the infringement of copyright.
There is also an obligation to prevent the manufacture and distribution of devices primarily designed for, or offering only a limited commercially significant purpose other than, the infringement of copyright.
The United Kingdom said that such obligations will not be affected by responses to the proposal. "Respondents (should) bear in mind that this consultation is not about whether the requirements of the directive itself are appropriate," the Patent Office said in a note. "The directive has been agreed, is in force, and cannot be changed at this time."
But measures such as one aimed at preventing the manufacture and distribution of devices that can be used to circumvent copyright may be difficult to enforce in practice, according to law firm Olswang. In a note on the legislation, Olswang said that anti-encryption technology, for example, might be useful for a wide variety of purposes, many of them legal.
"The enforcement of the provision may be as difficult as the enforcement of a provision against the manufacture or distribution of knives, but only such knives as might be used in an assault," the law firm said.ZDNet UK's Matt Loney reported from London.