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30 Days of DRM - Day 05: DRM Labelling and Consumer Awareness (Public Protection)

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Wednesday August 23, 2006
If government is to incentivize the use of DRM by enacting anti-circumvention legislation, it must also address the significant consumer protection issues that are likely to follow.  Most consumers know little if anything about DRMs and the limitations that may be placed on consumer entertainment products such as CDs, DVDs, video games, or digital download services.  While there may some limited disclosures - DVDs indicate the region code, if your eyesight is good enough you might notice that some copy-controlled CDs warn on the back corner that they may not play on all computers, and digital download services all feature lengthy user agreements that few consumers will ever read - they are plainly insufficient and the government should not support the legal fiction that "informed" consumers are knowingly purchasing products that contain a host of limitations. 

For many consumers, these DRM products are simply not fit for purpose - they often won't play on your DVD player, on your iPod, or permit usage that most would expect is permissible.  Moreover, consumers frequently can't obtain a refund for their purchases as many retailers won't accept returns on opened CDs and DVDs and digital download services do not offer refunds to disgruntled downloaders.

The federal government might argue that this is provincial problem, since consumer protection issues typically fall under provincial jurisdiction.  The reality, however, is that the federal government can and should play its part to address the issue.
First, it should consider establishing DRM labeling requirements (an approach also advocated by the Society for Law and Computers in the UK) so that consumers will be able to quickly identify capabilities, compatibilities, and limitations.  The Competition Bureau is currently responsible for two labelling statutes - the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and the Textile Labelling Act.  If labelling is required for upholstered furniture, surely it can be added for consumer entertainment products.

Second, the government should also add a consumer awareness and education campaign to support the labelling requirements and the legislative changes.  To date, Canadian Heritage has focused its copyright awareness campaigns on greater "respect" for copyright.  As is well documented, the private sector has produced campaigns such as Captain Copyright. Rather than these one-sided approaches, an awareness campaign on DRM labels and the limits created by technology is needed.  Not only would this help to educate the Canadian public, but it would also help promote Canadian content and culture, since Canadian record labels, who are responsible for 90 percent of new Canadian music, have generally eschwed using DRM in their releases.
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