March 15, 2013

Nothing New Here, But Nice To See It’s Getting Attention Again [5:14 pm]

From “The Copyright Rule We Need to Repeal If We Want to Preserve Our Cultural Heritage” [pdf] — critiques familiar to those who complained about the DMCA when it was first proposed.

Opponents of the DMCA anti-circumvention provision claim that the law threatens consumer control over the electronic devices we buy, and they’re right. But the stakes are much higher than that. Our cultural history is in jeopardy. If the DMCA remains unaltered, cultural scholarship will soon be conducted only at the behest of corporations, and public libraries may disappear entirely.

That’s because the DMCA attacks one of the of the fundamental pillars of human civilization: the sharing of knowledge and culture between generations. Under the DMCA, manmade mechanisms that prevent the sharing of information are backed with the force of law. And sharing is vital for the survival of information. Take that away, and you have a recipe for disaster.

[...] The anti-circumvention provision of the DMCA was created primarily to protect DVDs; it did not anticipate our rapid shift to media-independent digital cultural works, so it is absurdly myopic when it comes to digital preservation.

To properly preserve digital works, libraries must be able to copy and media-shift them with impunity. It may sound strange, but making a DRM-free copy of a digital work is the 21st century equivalent of simply buying a copy of a paper book and putting it on a shelf. A publisher can’t come along and take back that paper book, change its contents at any time, or go out of business and leave it unscrambled and unreadable. But publishers can (and have done) all three with DRM-protected works.

So why don’t librarians just defeat DRM, as it is often possible to do, and jailbreak Kindles and iPads to collect these materials? Because it’s illegal, of course. And if these chronically under-funded institutions want to keep their funding, they need to stay above the board.

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