Cambridge Study on DRM and Freedom of Expression

Patricia Akester of the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law at the University of Cambridge has released a comprehensive empirical study on the effects of DRM on copyright exceptions relied upon by libraries, educators, and consumers.  The study is interesting because it includes interviews with all the major players – libraries, consumers, educators, students, and groups representing the blind; the DRM providers such as Microsoft, RealNetworks, and Adobe; and the content owners including the IFPI and MPA.

The study succeeds in pointing to some clear negative effects of DRM and a legal system that provides legal protection for DRM.  While the content owners repeatedly refer to DRM as an enabler and the DRM providers claim to offer sufficiently sophisticated products that can account for copyright exceptions, it quickly becomes clear that actual purchasers and users of DRM'd products face restrictions that run counter to the law.  Library patrons lose access to works that contain DRM and the library expresses concerns about digital preservation, film teachers and students acknowledge that they use illegal (in the UK) programs to circumvent, the groups representing the blind cite cases where works cannot be read aloud, and consumer groups note that unexpected limitations often leave consumers stuck or shut out of their purchasers. The study provides several recommendations for statutory reform, but if applied to the Canadian context the answer is clear – don't do what we did.


  1. Ed in Calgary says:

    DRM and transferability
    I find the new DRM measures of anti-piracy not only counter-productive to common business practices, but as your paper defines, it makes one wonder if the implementation was properly thought out. It begs three questions:

    1. DRM – who are they really protecting in design – their own corporate lawyer team existence or the profits of the company?

    2. What really is the goal of DRM?

    3. As a consumer, do DRM agreements violate fair use?

    1 – Legal challenges for DRM violations are expensive. Not only for the accused but also for the company. What are the criteria they set out exercise this option? Is it goal based or based on a blind assumption that protection of their DRM comes at any cost?

    2. Do DRM really have client/customer facing goals? Are they designed to allow me to use the product in the 21st Century? What truly are they trying to protect? Is it possible that the only goal of DRM is to scare consumers not to pirate through scare mongering and intimidation? Do DRM speak volumes to the corporate attitude and underling principles the companies are practising and managing themselves by? Does it offer consumers insight into the corporate view on their own clients?

    3. In Canada, the copyright law was designed to protect “original literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic” works – not corporate. Of course, original works can also be subjective as can any fair use – including the copying of digital mediums to other sources which is legal (sort of) in Canada. Our laws are designed around the consumer – not the corporation. Is it possible that a happy DRM medium like Canada can exist in the world?

  2. Ed in Calgary says:

    Above message
    The above posting was a message I sent to Dr. Akester asking for her input on DRM and its potential hidden agenda.

    The big picture question: are DRM’s a window into the issuing corporate culture it comes from?

  3. Dohn Joe says:

    What did we do?
    “don’t do what we did”

    What did we do?