Right-to-Know Is Not a Bill of Rights
The role of consumer's expectations in determining their willingness to purchase digital media has been a current theme in this newsletter's editorials [Mi2N], and now by U.S. Senator Wyden. Noting that "digital technologies have created exciting new ways for consumers to use and manipulate content" and consequently their expectations, the senator has introduced the Digital Consumers Right-to-Know Act, which would require content distributors to clearly inform customers of any restrictions due to digital rights management & copy-protection technologies.
While I am heartened by the increased attention in the Congress over establishing clear rules that would allow the digital content sector to grow, Sen. Wyden's proposal falls far short, rather providing content companies with the cover needed to impose unreasonable & burdensome restrictions that may go counter to consumer's fair use rights.
Part of the problem with the bill is its underlying assumption: that consumer expectations are expanding significantly over time. The senator notes: "consumers increasingly expect to be able to shift legally purchased content between different devices – to access it on their computers, or in their cars, or using portable devices like MP3 players." But consumers have had this expectation well before the emergence of digital technology. How else could we explain the explosive growth of the Walkman in the 80s? And while burning perfect copies of a recording is new, I was copying my records and later CDs (let's not even mention radio) on cassettes when the word 'web' was still associated with spiders.
What has changed are content owners expectations of what consumers can do with their music. It is content owners that restrict how many copies can be made, in what formats to be ported on what devices. This is understandable, for while consumers' expectations have not changed dramatically, the impact of those actions in a digital environment have. That's why legislation proposed by Boucher/DooLittle & Rep. Lofgren offer the most complete solutions by clearly identifying and protecting consumers legitimate rights while illegitimating all other infringing conduct.
Related News from Mi2N:
» Wyden Takes New Approach To Digital Consumers' Rights