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Strong Copyright + DRM + Weak Net Neutrality

Charles W. Bailey, Jr. of the University of Houston recently published an article that would be well worth the time of FGI readers to look over.

The article is Strong Copyright + DRM + Weak Net Neutrality = Digital Dystopia?, and the final version appeared in Information Technology and Libraries, v. 25, no. 3, p. 116, September 2006.

For ease of discussion and quoting, I have linked to Mr. Bailey’s preprint version which he thoughtfully self-archived. Interesting, the final article seems to be around ten pages, while the preprint is 30.

While copyright is not normally an issue relevant to government information, DRM (Digital Rights Management) and Net Neutrality are and I believe that Charles Bailey has offered an excellent introduction to both along with some practical examples why DRM and dropping Net Neutrality are bad for libraries and citizens.

Some of the library headaches arising from DRM that Mr. Bailey cites are:

Godwin suggests that DRM may inhibit a variety of legitimate uses of DRM protected information, such as access to public domain works (or other works
that would allow liberal use), preservation of works by libraries, creation of new derivative works, conduct of historical research, exercise of fair use rights, and
instructional use. The ability of blind (or otherwise disabled) users to employ assistive technologies may also be prevented by DRM technology. DRM also raises a variety of privacy concerns.

I’d like suggest that we’re already seeing problems with accessing public domain works in Google Book Search, which continues to treat most post-1923 Congressional hearings as though they were in copyright.

After defining Net Neutrality, Mr. Bailey offers several examples of potential harm to users from losing net neutrality, including this one:

A third example is a comment by William L. Smith, BellSouth ‘s chief technology officer, who “told reporters and analysts that an Internet service provider such as
his firm should be able, for example, to charge Yahoo Inc. for the opportunity to have its search site load faster than that of Google Inc.,” but qualified this assertion by indicating that “a pay-for-performance marketplace should be allowed to develop on top of a baseline service level that all content providers would enjoy.” About four months later, AT&T announced that it would acquire BellSouth, after which it “will be the local carrier in 22 states covering more than half of the American population.”

Presumably the “baseline service level” would be too slow for many users or there would be little incentive to pay for faster service. With so many government services and publications only available through the Internet, what would “baseline service level” access mean for most users of e-government, especially the millions of rural users that only have dialup access. Doesn’t seem like a pretty picture.

The whole article is worth reading and can’t be done full justice in a blog posting. Please try to read it over and come back here with any comments.

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