March 24, 2009 | By Richard Esguerra

Stating the Case Against DRM to the FTC

Wednesday, EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry will be testifying at the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) town hall meeting on digital rights management technologies, or DRM. After years of observing DRM's development, suing Sony for its destructive SecuROM DRM, defending free speech for researchers and bloggers, and speaking out against DRM's use, EFF's stance is quite clear: DRM is harmful to consumers, it undermines competition and innovation, and unnecessarily preempts users' fair uses of copyrighted content -- all while making no appreciable dent in "digital piracy." In fact, generally the only ones who are inconvenienced by DRM are legitimate customers.

The FTC's desire to understand more about the harms of DRM comes at a particularly important moment. On one hand, the practice of placing digital copy protections on music is receding, because it had no impact on music piracy and has severely hobbled the music industry's efforts to "compete with free" (of course, this was all detailed in the famous "Microsoft Darknet paper" back in 2002). On the other hand, DRM is emerging as the favored way to enforce "lock-in" and crack down on legitimate competition -- see, for example, the technologies used to prohibit you from taking your cell phone to a different wireless service carrier. There's a growing number of examples where incumbents use DRM technologies, backed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and End-User License Agreements (EULAs), to hamper consumers' rights and stifle competition.

You can read our filing for the full comments we filed with the FTC. EFF recommends that the FTC engage in a breadth and depth of study that others generally cannot -- for example, by investigating DRM's effect on competition, examining in particular the activities of inter-industry consortia such as AACS and DVD-CCA. And ultimately, EFF hopes that the FTC publishes a best practices guide and issues a strong statement in support of consumers' rights. While those steps won't quite solve the harms caused by DRM, they will at least put a much-needed limit on the burdens imposed on consumers until greater reforms can be made.

Updated 3/25 10:20am PT: The hearing is underway! You can watch live streaming video on the FTC's website.

Updated 11:20am: You can also follow or join a discussion of the hearing on Twitter using the hash-tag #FTCDRM.

Updated 3/26 3pm: The hearing has ended. We'll be posting a summary of the highlights once the transcript becomes available.


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