below are a pair of articles i wrote on digital rights ownership and management a little over two years ago, in the interim, some of the things i mention like DRM [Digital Rights Management] have moved from an emerging technology to full time commercial use, like at apple`s itunes music store. i made some changes and corrections, i hope you find it enlightening.

If you are under the mistaken impression as a legal software purchaser, that you own it, then you my friend have been completely deluded. As a software purchaser — or should I say a software licenser — what you pay for is the ability to use the software on the machine you installed it on. Don’t believe me? He is a sample from a typical End User License Agreement or EULA from Aladdin Systems’ Stuffit:

“The Software is owned by Aladdin Systems and is protected by United States copyright laws and international treaty provisions. Therefore, you must treat the Software like any other copyrighted material (e.g., a book or musical recording). Paying the license fee allows you the right to use one copy of the Software on a single computer. You may not network the Software or otherwise use it or make it available for use on more than one computer at the same time. You may not rent or lease the Software, nor may you modify, adapt, translate, reverse engineer, decompile, or disassemble the Software. If you violate any part of this agreement, your right to use this Software terminates automatically and you must then destroy all copies of the Software in your possession.”

Generally, software is distributed pursuant to EULAs. These EULAs often take the form of what is called a “shrink-wrap” or “click-wrap” agreement, where a user shows his or her assent to the contract by either breaking the shrink-wrap or clicking through an agreement when he or she installs the program.

The EULA for a particular piece of software may restrict users` rights to the software, including their right to make archival copies. Under some EULAs, users do not even own their copy of the software, but merely receive a license from the vendor to use the copy. The EULAs for individual software vary, so read the EULA for the software in question for details.

EULAs are somewhat specific to computer software. Most other forms of intellectual property are not distributed pursuant to a license. You don`t have to assent to a license agreement when you buy a book or music CD, for example.

EULAs began as a practice by software vendors in part because there were doubts in the early days of software programming (pre-1980) as to whether computer programs were copyrightable subject matter. Some people thought that copyright should and would be limited to more creative and non-functional works such as literary works, and there were some doubts as to whether copyright applied at all to computer programs.

The software industry used contracts to try to protect computer programs, fearing copyright law would not cover its work. Today, this practice continues even though it is now well established that copyright law does cover computer programs.

I guess you’re wondering what all this has to do with you? and how you US law has any bearing on your life?

Well it can be summed up in three simple words — Business Software Alliance. The global enforcement arm of the world’s major software manufacturers, they use their considerable resources to bring pressure to bear on goverments to pass legislation that is entirely benefical to them and not necessarily you the consumer. Legislation has already been passed almost everywhere on the planet which continues to infringe on your limited rights. In the software industry, cavet emptor is even worth the paper it’s printed on.

Now let`s look at the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the other enforcement arm of the software, movie and record businesses and a possible horrific future of digital rights — Palladium.

With the passing of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the US, end users have even less rights to the software, they have legally purchased. The Digital Millennium Act represents the United States` compliance with the World Intellectual Property Organization treaty (WIPO), signed in December 1997. WIPO was designed to usher international law into the e-commerce era by establishing consistent rules for protecting intellectual property rights in the borderless wilds of the Internet. To that end, the act will make it illegal to defeat copy protection. The final version included a hotly debated, broad provision that restricts technology itself, by making it illegal to manufacture or distribute any “product, service, device, component, or part thereof,” that`s primarily useful for cracking a copy-protection scheme. It casts a wide net that will ensnare more than copyright infringers — the act will prohibit anyone from prying into the secrets of material they`ve bought and paid for, even if they have no intention of distributing, or even copying, that material.

The act has been the big stick many US film studios, record companies and software manufactures have applied pressure on the US Congress to pass more bills like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which has allowed them to clamp down on new technologies.

The first real victims of this aggresive big stick policy were Linux users, with the extremes that the Motion Picture Association of America went after the creators and distributors of DeCSS. DeCSS is code that allows people to watch DVD movies on Linux-run computers. The application removes encryption, a big no-no under the DMCA.

Now they`ve gone to work on computer manufacturers and software developers, persuading them to release PCs with restrictive hardware, software and settings pre-installed.

Computer manufacturers seem more likely to produce computers that operate more like VCRs or DVD players than the PCs people are accustomed to. These machines have copy-protection embedded in the hardware, much like home recorders that keep people from making copies of videos they have purchased.

A possible abuse of the law and technology was Microsoft’s proposed security and rights management solution — Palladium, which provides a computing platform on which you can`t tamper with the applications, and where these applications can communicate securely with the vendor. The obvious application is digital rights management (DRM): Disney will be able to sell you DVDs that will decrypt and run on a Palladium platform, but which you won`t be able to copy or use on a non-Palladium platform. The music industry will be able to sell you music downloads that you won`t be able to swap. They will be able to sell you CDs that you`ll only be able to play three times, or only on your birthday. [ed note:  The iTunes music store is actually set up on a similar model, where tracks are licensed for only 5 devices]  There is also the possiblity of remote censorship: the mechanisms designed to delete pirated music under remote control may be used to delete documents that a court (or a software company) has decided are offensive – this could be anything from pornography to writings that criticise political leaders. Software companies can also make it harder for you to switch to their competitors` products; for example, Word could encrypt all your documents using keys that only Microsoft products have access to; this would mean that you could only read them using Microsoft products and not with any competing word processor.

Welcome to 1984.

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