this is part of as days pass by, by Stuart Langridge

Below is a fax I sent to my MP to protest the European Union Copyright Directive.

Dear MP,

I'm writing to you to let you know of my concerns as regards the proposed European Union Copyright Directive (EUCD), and to ask what your plans are in respect of this putative law. The EUCD, an analogue to the unpopular US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), proposes to sharply restrict the rights currently enjoyed by users of copyrighted material, at the behest of the entertainment industry. As someone who is au fait with the internet (I enjoyed looking through your website), you are no doubt aware of the scandals surrounding peer-to-peer file-sharing systems such as Napster. First let me say that I in no way support free trading of copyrighted material such as music. However, the restrictions being placed on users by the EUCD far surpass those required to attempt to stop this illegal copyright violation. For example, companies such as Sony are beginning to produce "copy-protected" music CDs that will not play in computer CD-ROM drives. This means, essentially, that I must buy an "industry approved" CD player in order to listen to CDs that I have legitimately purchased! Similarly, under the EUCD, playing DVDs on my home computer (which runs the Linux operating system rather than MS Windows) will become illegal -- because the entertainment industry has thus far refused to release DVD playing software for Linux, there will be no "approved" way to play my DVDs on my computer, and any third-party software will be illegal. I do not want to buy a DVD player, or install an operating system that I do not like, simply to play DVDs that I have willingly and legitimately purchased from a shop.

The EUCD will also criminalise areas of software research; currently, cryptography research involves attempting to break publicly available ciphers in order to show weaknesses in them, and this then leads to ciphers being improved (to remove the weaknesses found). The EUCD will make this research illegal, but it will not prevent malicious crackers circumventing these ciphers (because what they're doing is already illegal); all it will do is stop ordinary researchers working for the public good publishing their research, and thus hinder the improvement of encryption technology. Essentially, we will be at the behest of the major software manufacturers, forced to believe that their work is perfect and cannot be circumvented (which is a dicey proposition at best), and unable to test the security of our data ourselves without risking jail!

I appreciate that the UK and Eire governments are responsible for "watering down" the initial EUCD proposal (which was more draconian) to the point at which it currently stands, but I believe that we have still not done enough. Although there are exemptions to the constraints of the Directive, these exemptions are optional and do not have to be implemented by member states, and we in the UK are not implementing all these exemptions. For example, one of the most onerous requirements of the proposed UK legislation is that the Secretary of State must give individual permission for each of the exemptions (those that the UK are choosing to implement). In practice, this means that an academic choosing to play samples of music to a class must write to the Secretary requesting permission on a sample-by-sample basis, if the music is encrypted. This huge burden seems nothing short of ridiculous. The EUCD could bring a future where all our access to music, literature, movies, and other content is controlled by an unelected committee made up of entertainment industry moguls. This is already beginning to happen in the United States (see, for example, the case of Dmitri Skylarov, arrested under the DMCA for writing software to "translate" electronic books in Adobe's secure eBook format into the more common Portable Document Format (PDF). This software was written by Skylarov, a Russian national, in Russia, and was legal in Russia. Nevertheless, he was arrested when he went to America to attend a conference). I want to see the UK be leaders on the electronic playing field, giving our programmers the freedom to enlarge the art and skill of computer software, not hobbled by over-zealous laws that are opposed to the open policy of our government.

Thanks for listening, and I look forward to your reply.

With warm regards,

Stuart Langridge

If you'd like to read up further on this, please consult the following URLs:
-- the Campaign for Digital Rights' critique of the EUCD
-- the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance, who are opposed to the restrictions within the EUCD
-- The Register, an IT newsletter, comments on the EUCD

© sil, August 2002