Building a new consumer model for DRM

DRM systems, which protect the rights of vendors and copyright holders, are well known for unreasonably limiting the rights of consumers. Wikipedia has a long list and discussion of the many occasions in which legitimate licencees have suddenly found their access to purchased music, books, movies, or apps pulled from under them.

Apple’s recent change in policy over the use of AOL usernames to provide access to previously purchased products is a stern reminder of this.

In short, those who purchased protected products using an AOL username will, after 31 March 2015, lose access to those products unless they convert their accounts to an Apple ID. Admittedly this should not prove a serious issue for anyone, but it underlines the problem: the default fallback when anything changes or goes wrong with DRM-protected products is to the disadvantage of the consumer.

The principle of consumer law is to protect the rights of the consumer.

There is clearly a gaping hole in consumer rights with respect to electronic licensing and DRM: the default fallback is to block access. So if the licensor goes broke, the supplier withdraws a product (as has happened when they fell foul of copyright, for instance), or there is any other change that they choose to make (Apple and AOL usernames), the consumer loses access. The only recourse then is to claim a refund from the supplier, which is often easier said than accomplished.

What should be required by consumer law is the opposite: the default fallback should be to provide access. Then if product authentication fails, for any reason, access and use should be permitted. A potential alternative might be for licensors to put their total refund liability into escrow to cover any future claims, but even cash-rich Apple might baulk at the sums involved.

I move that the EU – well known for its strong legal protection for consumers – should address this issue to ensure proper consumer protection. Perhaps in the US, with the DMCA working in an almost opposite direction, the cause has already been lost. But is this not a good proposal to put to your MEP and others?