DRM-Stripping Software Isn't Copyright Infringement, Judge Rules


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Jan 30, 2012
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Telling users how to strip the DRM from their legally purchased ebooks is not contributory copyright infringement, according to a ruling last month by a federal judge in New York. Judge Denise Cote dismissed two publishers' claims of contributory infringement and inducement inAbbey House Media v. Apple Inc., one of the many cases to come out of the antitrust litigation against Apple and a handful of major publishers.

Judge Cote dismissed the inducement claim by noting that the uses Abbey House was enabling—personal backup and device transfers—were non-infringing. As Judge Cote puts it:

"[Simon & Schuster] and Penguin's arguments to the contrary conflate the removal of DRM protection with the infringement alleged in the counterclaims. There is no question that Abbey House encouraged the removal of DRM protection. The act of infringement underlying the inducement claim, however, is not the removal of DRM protection. Rather, it is the copying and distribution of ebooks to others after such protection has been removed. The counterclaims do not allege that Abbey House encouraged such infringing acts".

Judge Cote’s ruling is a refreshing response to a disappointingly common conflation: if the publishers got their way, readers' technical ability to infringe because they're not restricted by DRM would effectively count as infringement. That's the same faulty logic that the copyright lobby uses to argue for increasing control over secondary uses of purchased works, whether that's importing or re-selling media, or even repairing or modifying devices. It's a cynical view that treats a user's ownership as assumed wrongdoing—so it's nice to see Judge Cote reject it.

DRM, and the laws behind it, have contributed to a sense among rightsholders that they can and should control media and devices even after users have purchased them. Judge Cote's ruling is an important reminder that that's not the case.

Here at DF we have always discouraged DRM removal software. With this ruling, DRM removal is perfectly legal as long as you do not redistribute the content.

What are your thoughts?



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OK, I'll jump in here. Having DRM, if it means I can't listen to my music on whatever device I choose, then it's gotta go. I own over 3,900 CDs, and have ripped them all to FLAC at 50% compression, and they're stored on a 4TB NAS on my home network. I can listen to them in any manner I choose and don't have to jump through hoops to do so. I will never buy DRM protected music, for just that reason. On the other hand, if I can remove or disable it without too much effort then I might consider it.

Is a shame that the record industry places greater priority on protecting their profits than they do on protecting the user experience for honest paying patrons. If they really cared they would/could cone up with a better technology that was both more secure and yet less invasive than DRM.
Like FoxKat, I'm a huge fan of ripping and encoding media. I have a lifetime subscription to AnyDVD HD for a reason. Being able to play my blu-ray rips on a phone, tablet, or HTPC via Kodi/Plex is something that I enjoy doing, and it keeps my daughter from leaving her discs out and scratching up her movies.

However, I don't think that DRM in and of itself is evil if it isn't in the foreground distracting the end user and making them jump through hoops for verification. A prime example is Steam; I open up Steam and launch the game from within the client, or I click a desktop icon. All the DRM is done in the background. When it becomes atrocious is when you buy a Ubisoft/GFWL game from Steam, then you have to install their 3rd party launcher that works after the Steam client has already verified everything.
I'm all about artists (movie, music, writers, etc) protecting their work from being illegally distributed. There has to be a better way though. They should institute a water mark type of DRM that checks against a known linked account.

My problem with DRM is when companies like Apple ask me to pay a per song fee to strip the DRM from my copy. Since Apple has stripped DRM from media (and charged for it!) I can't see how they would take someone else to court for the same thing. But that is the litagous fruit. That's how they roll.
I recall the days when digital media first came out Verizon music store, or somebody I got music from back then, used to have a sort of drm on their mp3 stuff. You could copy your file but only a certain number of times, 6 if memory serves. I don't know whatever happened to that. I think drm wasn't intended to keep the average buyer from making copies of their media as much as an attempt to stop piracy on a large scale. If Hollyweird put out better material they'd have no problem being plenty profitable. The movie Frozen is a good example. Yeah it's been pirated but Disney is still making a boat load of cash on legal sales. With their incessant need to remake old remakes there's no invective for the consumer to plunk down more than a couple bucks to buy said material, heck most films that come out now aren't worth the under $2 at Redbox to rent much less buy at retail to me. And all those fakeasscountrymusic wannabe artists that can't seem to do more than scream at the top of their lungs to hide the fact that they can't sing a lick should pay me to tolerate it over muzak stations.
That's just my "different" view of drm.

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