EFF Warns Consumers That Digital Rights Management Is Incompatible with Fair Use

San Francisco, CA - On Monday, Sun Microsystems announced its new "Open Media Commons," a digital rights management (DRM) project that the company claims will foster sharing of media while protecting copyrights. However, Sun has offered no evidence that its DRM system will be any better than the Microsoft DRM that it's supposed to challenge.

"No one woke up this morning and said, 'I wish Sun would figure out a way to let me do less with my music and movies,'" said Cory Doctorow, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's European Affairs Coordinator. "DRM doesn't sell hardware, software, or movies. The only reason to build DRM is to trade your users' freedoms for a bit of favor from the entertainment companies, a promise that they'll generously allow your record player to play their records -- provided it meets with their approval. If Sun wants to ship technology that competes with Microsoft DRM, it should start by asserting that copyright holders never get to design the record players their records play on."

Any software system, open or not, that blocks users from making legal use of digital content is not consumer friendly. And DRM systems are notorious for blocking people from making fair uses of content by preventing the duplication of all works, even if those works are in the public domain, are being copied for educational purposes, or are publicly owned materials such as government-gathered facts. Because the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes it illegal to circumvent DRM, there is no lawful way for people to override DRM systems -- even if they are doing it to make legal copies.

Sun says one of its goals with Open Media Commons is specifying "open, royalty-free digital rights management and codec standards" to "ensur[e] intellectual property protection." The problem with this approach is that making DRM "open" and "royalty-free" doesn't make it any less capable of restricting the public's rights under copyright.

Using "commons" in the name is unfortunate, because it suggests an online community committed to sharing creative works. DRM systems are about restricting access and use of creative works. A better way to protect the public's ability to make fair use of their media is to support the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act (DMCRA, HR 1201). That bill would permit people to circumvent DRM on media in order to make a legal use of that media.


Cory Doctorow
European Affairs Coordinator
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Seth Schoen
Staff Technologist
Electronic Frontier Foundation