Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

U.K. government rejects calls for DRM ban

Almost 1,500 sign anti-DRM petition, but U.K. officials say the technology, when certain safeguards are observed, still has value.

3 min read
The U.K. government has rejected a call for digital rights management to be banned in the U.K., but has acknowledged that the technology could undermine consumer rights.

A total of 1,414 people signed an online petition calling for digital rights management (DRM)--which places restrictions on how people can use media such as software or music--to be outlawed. The petition, hosted on the U.K. government's e-petitions Web site, warned that DRM removes the freedom of choice between competing products offered for digital download or on CDs.

The petition, created by blogger Neil Holmes, also cited an investigation into DRM last year by the All Party Parliamentary Internet Group, an independent Parliamentary organization. The group demanded safeguards for consumers against invasive technologies such as the rootkit-like program used by Sony on some music CDs in 2005.

The government published its response to the petition on Monday and claimed that DRM could bring value to consumers.

"DRM does not only act as a policeman through technical protection measures, it also enables content companies to offer the consumer unprecedented choice in terms of how they consume content, and the corresponding price they wish to pay," said the government, in its response.

"It is clear though that the needs and rights of consumers must also be carefully safeguarded. It is reasonable for consumers to be informed what is actually being offered for sale, for example, and how and where the purchaser will be able to use the product, and any restrictions applied," the government added.

The DRM debate in the U.K. coincides with arguments against use of the technology from another sector--Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs, who earlier this month advocated licensing music without DRM. Jobs contends that eliminating DRM will encourage interoperability between music services and boost sales of downloadable recordings.

Sony's use of rootkit-like technology on its music CDs caused a storm of protest. The DRM technology was secretly installed and hid itself from the operating systems on people's PCs when they played Sony CDs on their computers. Users complained that this violated their rights to full disclosure about the products they bought from Sony, whose problems escalated after virus writers used the technology to hide malicious software.

In the U.K., the Open Rights Group campaigns against technologies such as DRM, which it believes can undermine the rights of users.

Becky Hogge, executive director at the Open Rights Group, believes that public awareness of the issues surrounding DRM is growing. "DRM had been seen in the past as a niche technology issue, but there is now rising consumer awareness about it," she told ZDNet UK.

Hogge added that some DRM technologies put restrictions on users that run counter to their rights under U.K. copyright law. For example, a blanket ban on copying prevents an individual from taking a sample for review or illustrative purposes, as they are allowed to under the "fair use" provisions within copyright law.

"DRM attempts to enforce copyright, but it does it badly," Hogge said.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London.