Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Library of Congress: DRM is a problem

Inside the Library of Congress

Last week, the Library of Congress issued a report concerning the problems it is facing as it attempts to digitally preserve creative works. Despite the Library’s noble goals, some archaic provisions of copyright law, digital rights management and the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) are standing in the way of its mission to collect and preserve America’s cultural history.

For instance, the Library of Congress has the authority to copy a work three times, but only in the event that the original work is damaged or the original platform on which the work was created has become obsolete. As Nate Anderson of ArsTechnica points out, obsolescence can be difficult to define, as previous-generation devices like record players are still available for commercial purchase. This rule prevents the Library from taking the steps to preserve music now on vinyl discs onto multiple digital formats.

Even more chilling, there are some cases where the current legal structure would lead to a scenario where proper preservation would be impossible.

Say, for example, the Library of Congress was charged with preserving a musical work, but that work was delivered as a digitally "locked" file. The LOC would only be able to copy it to another format – MP3 for example – when the current technology to play back the DRM-ed file became obsolete (which will happen sooner or later). However, it would still be illegal for the LOC to save the file as an MP3 or other format because the DMCA prevents the circumvention of encryption and other protection schemes. In this example, since a) no means to play the song would exist and b) it would be illegal to transcode it into a different format, the music would be lost forever.

The report offered many recommendations to Congress as to how best change the law to "encourage[s] digital preservation of copyrighted works." Removing the muzzle placed upon digital archiving is essential to the mission of the Library of Congress.

An interesting aside: the LOC report was published under a Creative Commons license, so you shouldn't have any legal trouble reproducing that.

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