For many years, when someone purchased a movie or a song from an Internet site, it would download and it would become “owned” by the device owner. It could be moved to another device or even copied multiple times. The artist would get his share of the royalties from the original sale and we’d all be happy. In the last five years, we are starting to see a new technology platform being used – one that places digital locks on a digital material, which remain even after sale.
Truth be told, this is not all that new. For anyone who’s owned an iAnything (iPhone, iPad, etc), you’ve probably already experienced this. Apple was one of the first big users of digital locks. For example, it used to be that if you had an iPod, you could only purchase songs from the Apple store and you couldn’t move those songs to any other non-Apple device. Apple controlled the content. They have quit using digital locks on their music, which can now be shared and played on other devices.
Locking was originally created to help control copyright infringement. Too many people were sharing music, movies and other content online without the author receiving appropriate remuneration.
Unfortunately, what ended up happening with digital locks is that control of the work has shifted. The artist does not have control. The consumer does not have control. The one in control of the content is the company who owns the digital locking platform. This company controls access, execution, copying, printing, usage and they can even control content. Not only that, but they can track everything you do with the content your purchased. The platform owner can record what you watch, what you read and even how often you read it.
Does the consumer lose?
Some say yes. If you own something that is digitally locked and you then break the lock, you can be sued. You can be sued even if you’re doing something with the unlocked content that is 100% perfectly legal and that does not infringe upon a copyright. This is because the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 forbids breaking digital locks with only a few exceptions. Being the artist or the creator of the work is not one of the exceptions.
In addition, the consumer has very little say but to use the product required by the platform owner. You may be able to purchase and download an eBook, but if you don’t have the right reader, you no longer can read it.
There are many now calling for further reforms to the law. They believe the law is overly broad and tramples on the rights of the authors of the work as well as the consumers. It remains to be seen how successful these reformers will be, but one thing is certain: the digital copyright laws will continue to evolve for many years.